By Bill Simons
JERZY (AND JERSEY) IN TROUBLE: When a voice called out in the press room, “Jerzy’s collapsing,” it had nothing to do with the faltering fortunes of New Jersey’s embattled Governor Chris Christie, and everything to do with the on-court struggles of Jerzy Janowicz, who lost today.
THE IRRATIONALITY OF THIS GAME: Jim Courier said, “Tennis players and a rational mind—you don’t hear those two together in a sentence very often.”
TEN QUESTIONS ON A HOT TOPIC: The suffocating heat in Melbourne has raised many a question:
1. Has there ever been a scorching four-day run like this in a tennis tournament?
2. Just how hot has it been? Tram rail lines have buckled, birds have fallen out of the sky, bushfires are raging, and some have likened being on court to playing on a frying pan .Li Na said, “I [have to] take [a] hot/cold shower, like three-to-five times, and drink enough. Have to eat. It’s very tough to recover.” American Varvara Lepchenko, was leading Simona Halep, but lost 4-6, 6-0, 6-1 said, As the score line would suggest, she was more affected by the conditions than her opponent. “At first I didn’t understand what was going on,” she said after the match. “But then my legs, my arms started to get heavier and I couldn’t focus … I started feeling dizzier and dizzier. I tried everything, and unfortunately, I just couldn’t continue playing 100%. In the second set, I couldn’t focus on my returns, I couldn’t see the ball, and then it was just like one step leading to another.”
3. Is playing in these brutal conditions simply inhumane or unsafe?
4. Does Melbourne’s sweltering heat—today, temperatures rose to 111 degrees, with conditions even hotter on court—make for even tougher conditions than the sweltering humidity in Florida, or in New York during the US Open?
5. How do these world-class athletes perform at such a high level in such conditions?
6. What rules have to be changed? Why not close the roof at any time, not just at the end of a set?
7. Just what exactly is a “wet bulb temperature?” (The answer: It’s the temperature a parcel of air would have if it were cooled to saturation—100% relative humidity—by the evaporation of water into it, with the latent heat being supplied by the parcel.)
8. Is an event like this tournament on the verge of a serious problem? As Maria Sharapova asked, does anyone really know what the limits are?
9. How come some of the theories of the Australian Open’s doctor, Tim Wood—over-hydrating is more dangerous then under-hydrating; tennis is not as dangerous a hot-temperature sport as running—seem kind of wacky or suspect?
10. A polar vortex there, a searing over-the-top heat here—what about climate change and extreme-weather events? Nah, forget it, don’t worry let’s just go on burning fossil fuels.
SILLY US: Little did we know that the “extreme heat” rule coming into effect had to do with suspending play at tennis matches due to high temperatures. We always thought “the extreme heat” rule referred to an overwhelming baseball pitcher—say Nolan Ryan, Justin Verlander, or Mariano Rivera—taking to the mound.
YET ANOTHER BASEBALL REFERENCE: Aussie star Casey Dellacqua hasn’t heard of America’s classic baseball poem “Casey at the Bat.” Then again, maybe that’s not too bad. In the poem, the mighty Casey strikes out.
THE SLOANE RANGER RIDES AGAIN: What is it about Sloane Stephens? The LA girl has swagger. She emanates ‘tude. The kid loves to see her name in light—she beamed when she saw a huge poster of herself in the Big Apple. America has a lot of young wannabes. But make no mistake: Sloane’s our best A-list prospect.
This little power meister doesn’t bow to anyone. After beating Serena a year ago, she said she would replace the Serena poster on her wall with a poster of herself. Her attitude says: I’m 20, and I can do anything I want. A while back, she told Inside Tennis that if she doesn’t win the French Open within a decade, it would be a crime. And for a third season, she is shining on the game’s mightiest stages. But it ain’t easy. Houdini is her man, mind-boggling escapes her thing.
Does she raise the level of her game at crunch time? You betcha. Hands, power, guts, speed, athleticism—always exciting—that’s the Sloane Ranger. Some thought her second-ound match against the 20-year old Croatian Ajla Tomljanovic, ranked No. 67, would be a breeze. But didn’t you get the memo? Little is easy for Sloane, who has patented the pout-and-stare. She was up 3-0 in the third set, but after an hour-and-a-half rain delay, promptly lost five games in a row to find herself on the brink of letting the match slip away. But she pulled off a mind-boggling sequence that included clutch serves, power forehands, and the subtlest of drop shots to won four games in a row and secure a 3-6, 6-2, 7-5 victory. In the third round, she faces little-known Ukrainian teen Elina Svitolina.
MEDIA MIX: The headlines in Melbourne are all about Australia turning into an oven. “FURNACE,” blared one. Two others: “FIRE FEARS REMAIN AS CREWS SWOOP SCORCHED EARTH,” and “OUT-OF-CONTROL FIRES THREATEN TOWNS.”
Many a TV report includes scary footage of dangerous bush fires, and warnings to the good folks in Cherrypool and Glenisla Crossing. All the while there are stories on the struggles of the Strikers in the Big Bash cricket league, and news of cycling’s Down Under Tour. Plus, we are fascinated by the articles about a Portugeese nun who has ancient drawings of kangeroo-like marsupials, suggesting that Europeans may have come to Australia long before British prisoners arrived early in the 19th century. Still, amid all of this media blur, our favorite story is about a man who, way out on the ocean, reeled in a marlin from his kayak. Pretty cool.
WHAT CAROLINE WOZNIACKI AND THE PGA NATIONAL GOLF COURSE HAVE IN COMMON: Both brought Ireland’s star golfer, Rory Mcllroy, to his knees. Wozniacki insisted her true love do so in order to propose. He gladly did.
NOT EXACTLY BOUND TO BE BUD COLLINS: Just after Aussie teen wildcard Thanasi Kokkinakis “interviewed” Rafa Nadal at a Babolat promotional event, ,he went on to lose to the Spaniard in the second round. Inside Tennis asked Nadal if Kokkinakis had much of a future in journalism. Rafa replied, “My advice is: Keep working on tennis.”
MON DIEU: Ben Rothenberg noted, “Five days after he was on crutches, and two days after winning a 16-14 fifth set, Gilles Simon is going five vs. Marin Cilic. Mon dieu.”
LUCKY LI: Li Na was very unlucky when she crashed to the court and hurt herself in last year’s AO final. Some said the tumbles cost her the title. But today, Lucie Safarova barely failed to convert a critical second-set match point when her winner-attempt drifted just a tad long. Na said, “The five centimeters [Safarova’s shot missed by] save my tournament. If she hit it in, I think, whole team on the way to the airport.”
STREAKING SCOT: Andy Murray won 23 straight points en route to beating France’s Vincent Millot.
A NEW RODDICK? While reflecting on Aussie teen sensation Nick Kyrgios, Jim Courier said, “He’s definitely tipping his hand that he has some good cards … He reminds me of a young Andy Roddick, who came out at 18 and loved the crowd.”
FOREVER YOUNG: Atlanta’s Donald Young is often tagged as the foremost underachiever in the American game these days. Early in his career—the Chicago native turned pro when he was 14—he was given a string of wildcards, only to be bounced out time and again in the first round. He didn’t work as hard as he should have. Critics said he was too dependent on his parents and carried an overblown sense of entitlement. He let loose with an infamous rant against the USTA for not giving him a precious wildcard. When he practiced with Pete Sampras, the great California professional goaded him along by calling him a princess.
Young has yet to win a main-level ATP tournament, and going into Melbourne, he hadn’t won a Slam match since 2011. On Thursday, he let leads evaporate in the fourth and fifth sets, but took advantage of an extreme-heat delay, using his power forehand and sweet hands to come back and score a 6-4, 2-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 win over Italy’s savvy No. 24 Andreas Seppi (who took down Lletyon Hewitt in the first round). Next up for Young is a third-round confrontation with Japan’s No. 16 seed, KeI Nishikori.
NONSENSE AT HISENSE: Federer said with a straight face that—despite temps in the range of 107 degrees—he wished that the roof had been open during his Hisense Arena win over Blaz Kavcic. In contrast, Nadal was pleased the roof at Rod Laver Arena was closed.
ARE YOU CRAZY? When Casey Dellacqua was asked whether the heat was a drag, she said, “No, I felt great … really good out there. When I saw her [Jie Zheng] laying down, I thought, ‘Okay, she’s struggling’ … That’s what you … want to see. You’re always looking on the other side of the court to see even if they’re getting angry … The heat was great. I love it. It makes my body feel good … I really enjoyed it … It would be nice if it would be a bit hotter for the next week.”
At this point, Inside Tennis asked the Aussie,”Are you crazy?”
Dellacqua replied, “I just grew up in this weather in Perth. We had summers like this all the time. I totally understand there is a point where it gets ridiculous. Like yesterday, obviously it was just too hot to play … I’m lucky that I’ve acclimatized to it.”
KEVIN IN HEAVEN: South African Kevin Anderson pulled out his second comeback from two sets down in beating Edouard Roger-Vasselin, and will now play Tomas Berdych for the fifth time in the last nine Slams. Berdych has prevailed in all five meetings.