MELBOURNE – The temperature topped 100 degrees F (38 degrees Celsius) in the first of the Australian Open women’s semifinals and got slightly warmer in the second, when Garbiñe Muguruza and Simona Halep were going shot-for-shot in the hot-hot sun.
The sudden burst of heat got very, very close to triggering the top level of the tournament’s extreme heat policy, which means suspending play and closing the retractable roofs on the show courts and, more or less, making it indoors.
That would have suited two-time major champion Halep, a runner-up in Melbourne in 2018.
“Yes, it was very, very hot today and I felt it,” the fourth-seeded Halep said after losing 7-6 (8), 7-5, despite being a point away from winning both sets. “Killed me after the first set. The sun was strong. I didn't like that much to play in this weather.”
On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 meaning it's mandatory for the roof to be closed, it reached 4.9 while Muguruza and Halep were playing on Thursday afternoon. The temperature edged up to 102 degrees F (39 degrees C).
“Conditions were tough out there," Muguruza said, adding that she had primed herself to deal it.
“I asked if it was opened or closed. They told me it's not enough to close it," she said. “I'm like, 'OK, well ... I'm going to have to suffer out there.'”
Sofia Kenin grew up in Florida, and said she had no problem with the heat in her 7-6 (6), 7-5 semifinal win over top-ranked Ash Barty, an Aussie who is also used to the hot conditions. The so-called Heat Stress Reading — that scale from 1-5 — was on 4.3 when their match started.
Melbourne’s fickle weather regularly generates news during the season’s first major, but the start of the decade has brought some extremes.
Day 11 was by far the hottest so far in a tournament. Until then, relatively mild temperatures — in terms of the Australian summer, at least — followed a few rainy days. The rain — it was dirty red one day when the wet weather pushed through a dust storm — helped alleviate the terrible air quality that affected the qualifying tournament because of smoke from devastating bush fires to the north and east of Melbourne.
It'll be a furnace Friday, with Australia's Bureau of Meteorology forecasting temperatures in parts of Melbourne to hit 109 degrees F (43 degrees C) before a cooler change — possibly in time for the second men’s semifinal match between Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev.
Then the slide is expected to begin, with maximum forecast temperatures of 91 degrees C (33 degrees C) on Saturday — when Kenin and Muguruza are set to meet in the women's final — 73 degrees F (23 degrees C) on Sunday for the men's final and down to 64 degrees F (18 degrees C) to start next week.
The drought will extend another year for Aussies at the season-opening Grand Slam event.
Ash Barty doesn't think hometown pressure was a factor in her semifinal loss to Sofia Kenin at the Australian Open.
The top-ranked Barty, who won the French Open last year after losing in the quarterfinals at Melbourne Park, had set points in both sets against the 21-year-old American, who was into the semifinals at a major for the first time.
“She played the biggest points well," Barty said Friday. “Sofia came out and played aggressively on those points and deserved to win.
“I felt like I was scrapping and trying to find what I wanted to do best and came within a couple of points of winning the match. Yeah, sometimes it falls your way, sometimes it doesn't. That's just sport. That's life.”
Barty, holding her weeks-old niece, Olivia, on her knee, acknowledged at a news conference there had been plenty of local attention on her run, the first by an Australian woman to the semifinals of the Australian Open since Wendy Turnbull in 1984. There hasn't been a homegrown winner of the singles title since 1978.
“I've been in a Grand Slam semifinal before. Yes, it's different at home. I enjoyed the experience,” Barty said. "I mean, if you would have told me three weeks ago that we would have won a tournament in Adelaide, made the semifinals of the Australian Open, I'd take that absolutely every single day.”
RETURNING THE FAVOR
All the way back when she was 7, Sofia Kenin was trying to work out ways to compete with the top players in the world.
After advancing to her first Grand Slam final by beating top-ranked Ash Barty at the Australian Open, Kenin said she had been dreaming of this moment since she was a kid.
She made a passing reference to a vide o posted by Tennis Channel of her talking about how to unpick former No. 1-ranked Andy Roddick's weapon.
In it, a 7-year-old Kenin says the secret was in how to return his serve and explains how: “If I split, and then I turn around and hit my forehand with my short swing."
Kenin, who was born in Moscow in 1998 and moved to Florida as a baby, was a child when Roddick won the U.S. Open in 2003. He also reached four other Grand Slam finals.
“I think everyone knows about it. I'm doing an interview thing, I can return his serve, how I will return it,” the 21-year-old American said. “By the way, he tweeted something about me. He said congratulations and stuff, so ... Thank you, Andy.”
DJOKOVIC ON COURT
Novak Djokovic had just reached a record eighth Australian Open final when he was asked why it seemed to be only long-retired players who were leading the campaign to have Margaret Court Arena renamed.
It has been a contentious issue at Melbourne Park because of Court's controversial comments on homosexuality and gay marriage. Djokovic didn't take sides.
John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova this week unfurled a sign on the court asking it to be renamed in honor of Evonne Goolagong. They later apologized for breaching tournament protocol, but not for their campaign.
Djokovic said he had seen the photo of McEnroe and Navratilova with the banner but wasn't well-enough informed about their protest to make a judgement. He also said he understood that people were hurt by comments from the 77-year-old Court, who became a religious minister after winning an all-time record 24 Grand Slam singles titles.
“Margaret is a huge champion, a tennis hero in Australia, and also around the world. One of the most important tennis players in the history of women's game," Djokovic said. "Of course, when she says something like that, it has a huge impact.
"I don't support ... what she said. I don't think it was the right thing to say. But she probably has her reasons and we have to respect that she has a difference in opinion. That's all there is to it.”
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