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Australian Open comes in out of the heat

January 21, 1997

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) _ The Australian Open quarterfinals came in out of the heat today, and not everybody was happy about it.

For the first time ever, the center court roof was closed to protect tennis players and spectators from heat exceeding 104 degrees in the shade and more than 140 degrees on the court.

Although players wilted and complained in similar conditions Sunday and Monday, tournament referee Peter Bellenger said he did not have the option of closing the roof because of heat.

The issue was fairness. Before the quarterfinals, some singles matches are played on center court and others on outer courts with no roof. But starting Tuesday, all singles matches are on the 15,000-seat center court, in use since 1988, and the roof can be closed at Bellenger’s discretion if temperatures reach 95 degrees.

Still, some players wanted the roof open so their fitness or playing style, better suited to wind and sun, might give them an edge.

No. 14 seed Felix Mantilla, the first loser under Tuesday’s closed roof, said his opponent, Spanish compatriot Carlos Moya, might have beaten him more easily outdoors.

``There is no way of knowing, but it definitely changed the conditions,″ he said after losing 7-5, 6-2, 6-7 (5-7), 6-2.

But Mantilla said that ``I’m very disappointed over the way we were treated.″

He said he had practiced mostly in sun and wind before knowing the roof would be closed, while Moya took his half-hour of center court practice after him, all under the roof.

Moya said of the closed roof: ``I’m going to be playing anyway. If it’s snowing, raining, 60 degrees (Celsius, 140F), I don’t care.″

Bellenger, wearing a long-sleeved white shirt, said: ``We haven’t had 40-degree (104F) temperatures in Melbourne for eight years. ... I thought it was better for the game, for the players and for the public, to be able to view the game in relative comfort. I think in all this, the public deserves some consideration.″

He also said, however, that the conditions were not as unsafe as some people had suggested.

On Monday, Dr. Gerald Segal, Victoria state representative for the Australian Medical Association, said players were being placed in life-threatening situations and could not be expected to recuperate with just one day between matches.

``It could be just a matter of time before someone dies out there,″ Segal said. ``They could have renal failure, a fit, a heart attack or liver failure _ the body just shuts down.″

Dr. Allan Hahn, head of the physiology department at the Australian Institute of Sport, said the conditions brought a risk of severe dehydration and muscle and organ damage.

The quality of tennis also suffers as players slow down to try to conserve energy, as Pete Sampras did in winning his five-setter Monday.

Bellenger said the players’ safety was a concern, but that if a player were in danger, there would be warning signs in time for medical attention.

``Some players, even though it’s 40 degrees (104F), would prefer to have the roof open, so they’re obviously not concerned about the safety aspects,″ he added.

While official weather bureau measurements of the air temperature were 41 degrees (106F) Monday, the heat radiating back from the sun-baked hardcourts reached 60 degrees (140F). Bellenger said that with the roof closed, temperatures on center court Tuesday were 25-26 degrees (77-79F).

The rules allow the closing of the roof for heat only during day sessions, although it can be closed any time for rain _ a likelihood for tonight when the weather was predicted to turn cool for the next few days.

The decision was solely Bellenger’s. He said he had not consulted with the players but had talked with other tournament officials.

And the decision covered only the two singles matches played in the daytime.

The Moya-Mantilla match was followed by Amanda Coetzer’s 6-4, 6-1 victory over Kimberly Po.

Coetzer, who has trained in South Africa’s desert heat, said she would have preferred to play in the sunshine. But heat was a key factor in her upset of No. 1 Steffi Graf on Sunday, so ``my hard work wasn’t in vain,″ she added.

Bellenger said he had heard from some of the quarterfinalist’s coaches and ``they have been fairly understanding″ of the decision to close the roof.

But, he added, some protested that their players had trained specifically for Melbourne’s searing summer.

The fairness issue arose for doubles. Australian top seeds Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge were scheduled to play a quarterfinal inside while Jonathan Stark and Rick Leach were to play Ellis Ferreira of South Africa and American Patrick Galbraith on an outside court.

``The rule was based around the singles players, and we believe the conditions are far more severe on singles players. ... Unfortunately it’s not possible to satisfy everybody with everything,″ Bellenger said.

For singles, he said, it seemed fairer to have the quarterfinalists playing in 72-degree temperatures indoors today with the same temperature predicted outdoors on Wednesday, rather than some in sizzling hot weather one day and others in more comfortable weather the next.

For the future of all four Grand Slam tournaments, including the Australian, the possibility of allowing breaks during matches in extreme heat would be discussed, he said.

The Australian Open is the only Grand Slam that has a retractable-roof stadium available.

Australian Sports Minister Warwick Smith said Tuesday that ``alternative arrangements must be found for future years, when heat wave conditions may prevail in the early rounds of the tournament″ before the roof-closing option becomes available in the quarterfinals.

First aid services at the Open treated 20 spectators for heat prostration Sunday and 26 on Monday, said Wayne Deakes, duty officer for the St. Johns Ambulance.

No. 3 Goran Ivanisevic, who beat Norwegian Christian Ruud in five sets Monday, called the heat impossible.

``There is not one tournament like this. It is a killer,″ he added.

``The conditions were inhumane,″ said Belgian Dominique Van Roost after her victory over American Chanda Rubin. ``It was like an oven.″

But 1942 U.S. champion Ted Schroeder, who has been coming to Australia for 50 years, said: ``These people don’t know what heat is. If they want to feel what heat really is, play in Minnesota or Chicago in mid-summer.″

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