At US Open, some finding it tough to restart after a stop
NEW YORK (AP) — For tennis players suffering through the toughest conditions they’ve ever faced, the choice sounds simple.
A 10-minute break they’re allowed to escape the searing heat that’s making their feet burn and their heads spin would seem as welcome as a water fountain in the desert.
For players such as Novak Djokovic, rejuvenated after an ice bath during his first match, the benefit of an extreme heat policy at the U.S. Open has been clear.
But there’s a downside.
Once those 10 minutes are up, players have to pick up right where they left off, and some are finding their bodies just can’t do it and that they’d have been better off playing through the pain.
“It felt worse once I went out into the air-conditioned room and then I went back. Then it felt double as hot as it felt before,” said Andrea Petkovic, who lost to No. 10 seed Jelena Ostapenko in the first round on Tuesday.
The heat policy was put into place that afternoon, when temperatures first soared into the 90s — feeling more like 105 when combined with the humidity. It was extended into Thursday and was to remain until further notice, though temperatures were expected to cool by the weekend.
Djokovic boasted of the ice baths that he and opponent Marton Fucsovics took during their break that afternoon. Then Djokovic, looking weary earlier, came back out and put away the fourth set 6-0.
Fucsovics figured the bath would help, because it usually does when he has a match the next day. But when he had to quickly play again, he found that his muscles wouldn’t warm up in time.
“To sit in for two minutes and then go on the court again, maybe it wasn’t the best idea,” he said.
The women’s tour has an existing rule allowing for the 10-minute break between the second and third sets, as long as either player requests it. If both decline, play continues.
The ATP Tour doesn’t have a rule, but the U.S. Open extended the policy to the men at the recommendation of its medical team, with the break coming between the third and fourth sets. Some men said they didn’t like it, others seemed confused by it.
No. 15 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas had just won the third set after dropping the first two against Daniil Medvedev, who then left the court. Tsitsipas remained in his chair, forgetting about the break until he thought it was too late for it to do any good, and lost the fourth set.
“I felt like it was a long distance for me, and it’s not necessary to, you know, spend that much going back and forth,” he said. “So I don’t know. Hopefully I’m going to use it more clever, this 10-minute break in the future, hopefully.”
Players on Arthur Ashe or Louis Armstrong Stadium can quickly duck into tunnels for their breaks, but the outer courts don’t have facilities quite as close. U.S. Open officials were able to find more locations for players there to use as the week went on, though not with the same accommodations as the stadiums.
“Where we went off and had the break, it was probably hotter than on court,” John Millman said after beating No. 14 seed Fabio Fognini. “We could have done without it.”
Millman had said he wasn’t a fan of the break, though he understood it was done out of concern for players. But it’s come with some controversy, with Andy Murray complaining that Fernando Verdasco might have used their break to talk to his coach, a violation of the rules, before finishing off Murray in the fourth. (Verdasco said he was chatting with another player and that player’s coach.)
Basketball players can take a few jumpers at halftime to regain their rhythm, but tennis players don’t have that luxury. There is no warmup time; once the break is over, they have to be ready to go when the first ball is hit.
Steve Johnson knows how tough that can be. The American had just taken the third set from No. 9 seed Dominic Thiem, with a crowd trying to spur him to the upset. But his ankle didn’t want to restart after the stop, and he fell in five.
“It was good to have the break to kind of regroup. But the adrenaline kind of wore off after the end of the third, and sitting there for 10 minutes trying to get it re-taped, it just got stiff,” he said. “It took me 5-10 minutes to get going. Bummer that I was already down a break at that point and he was serving well. That’s life.”
Follow Brian Mahoney on Twitter: https://twitter.com/briancmahoney