July 19, 2024

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU'LL EVER NEED

MELBOURNE, Australia – It’s not that the conditions were SO brutal in Melbourne on Friday. They’ve been far worse here during the Australian Open.

But with the weather being relatively mild overall the last week or 10 days, as the players prepped for the qualifying, Friday’s heat was a shock to more than a few.

Bodies were failing all over the place in a war of attrition exacerbated by the fact that it was the third and final round, and main-draw slots (and $120K AUD and the possibility of more) were at stake.

To sum up? Anecdotally, the smaller men – and those who wore caps and/or made better use of the ice towels – came through on the whole.

But in some cases, more needed to be done to alleviate as much of the heat challenge as possible.

Diallo overcome by heat

One who might have done a better job with the finer details was 22-year-old Canadian Gabriel Diallo, the only Canadian in the men’s qualifying and a player who came through with an energizing win Thursday in the second round against Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

But on Friday, after winning the first set against former top-10 player David Goffin, Diallo wilted. The conditions clearly got to him, and he looked dizzy. By the third set of a match that barely took two hours in total, he was cooked.

Here’s what it looked like.

Diallo, a 6-foot-8, 22-year-old, didn’t have a hat on. So the hot sun was beating directly down on his head.

He also didn’t use the ice towel much – a few times, he had an ice bag that he mostly held in his hands.

It’s not surprising that by the third set – even though the entire match didn’t last much more than two hours – he wilted noticeably.

Goffin, an experienced veteran and a more compact man, did wear a cap. And while he looked pretty pink himself, he came out of it far better physically.

Hopefully Diallo will learn from this, because these should have been basic preparations for the conditions. And they didn’t happen.

Perhaps a hat and some ice towels might not have been the difference maker. Maybe they would have. We’ll never know, but Diallo was just one set away from making his Grand Slam main-draw debut. And he fell just short without putting every possible element on his side.

Mpetshi-Perricard cramped in defeat

Later in the day, another 22-year-old, 6-foot-8 drink of water – a heavier, bigger one – took the court to try to qualify for his first Grand Slam main draw.

Giovanni Mpetshi-Perricard, a charismatic, big-hitting and big-serving Frenchman who is just arriving in the top 200, did get a wild card into Roland Garros last spring and lost in the first round

But, facing countryman Hugo Grenier, a 27-year-old ranked just a little ahead of him at No. 179 who has been in the top 100 but has fallen out, he had a great chance to earn a main-draw spot on his own efforts in Melbourne.

Like Diallo, Mpetshi-Perricard won the first set.

Again, this big unit didn’t wear a cap. And the ice towel wasn’t happening. And so it wasn’t surprising given the heat and the stress, that he began cramping.

Grenier, no shortie at 6-foot-5, DID wear a cap. And by the end of a 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (10-4) piece of theatre that also took just a shade over two hours, he was far the better for wear.

Mpetshi-Perricard is a big server, although his peak over the last two matches – at least the parts Open Court saw – was in the low 200 km/h range, he upped that considerably by the end of this one.

He was burnt. That’s about all he had left, and he went for the gusto into the 220s on a regular basis.

But it just wasn’t enough if you can’t move the rest of the point.

Again, hard to know if taking better precautions in the tough conditions and putting all the odds on his side would have made the difference.

Hopefully, like Diallo, he learned from it.

(And yes, we know that if you’re not used to wearing a cap on court, it’s no fun to wear a cap).

Milos and the Hat Head

The travails of these two tall young players brought back flashbacks of a young Milos Raonic, who was 23 when he played the Australian Open a decade ago.

It was so hot the day of his first-round match, Open Court’s flip flop melted and got stuck to the court-type surface next to his court, while snapping some photos. Unlike Friday, when it was about 32C, it was more like 42C that day, and play was stopped later in the day for a long period.

But Raonic – who was well-known back then for his disdain of wearing any sort of headwear – was prepared. He practiced with a cap. He wore it during the match. He stepped into tiny shade window caused by the light standards. He wore the ice towel on every changeover.

If you remember those days, you remember the luscious loaf and the discussion of all the various hair products required to keep it in check. So you can understand the hat hatred.

And on a day when players were falling like flies – notably, that was the day his countryman Frank Dancevic was hallucinating so badly, he thought he was seeing Disney characters – he came out of a four-set win over Daniel Gimeno-Traver none the worse for wear.

A ballkid even collapsed on his court that day. And another young ballgirl was very much overcome.

Maybe the young ones should have gone to Raonic for some tips before this very tough day.

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