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Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic advance at brutally hot U.S. Open

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NEW YORK (AP) — His cheeks red, hair matted with sweat, Novak Djokovic appeared to be in such distress as he trudged to a changeover on a steamy U.S. Open afternoon that someone suggested it would be a good idea to have a trash can at the ready, just in case he lost his lunch.

Djokovic sat down and removed his shirt. He guzzled water from a plastic bottle. He placed one cold towel around his neck, a second across his lap and a third between his bare upper back and the seat.

He was not even 1½ hours into his first match at Flushing Meadows in two years, and while Djokovic eventually would get past Marton Fucsovics 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-0 Tuesday, it was a bit of an ordeal.

“Survival mode,” Djokovic called it.

With the temperature topping 95 degrees (33 Celsius) and the humidity approaching 50 percent — and that combination making it feel more like 105 (40 C) — nearly everything became a struggle for every player across the grounds on Day 2 of the U.S. Open, so much so that no fewer than six quit their matches, with at least four citing cramps or heat exhaustion.

Roger Federer, comparatively spared with a night match, improved to 18-0 in U.S. Open first-round matches and took one step toward a potential quarterfinal showdown against Djokovic.

Dressed from head to toe in a plum-colored outfit, the 20-time major champion delivered 14 aces and never was in any trouble during a 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 victory over 117th-ranked Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Federer saved the first eight break points he faced before finally faltering by pushing a forehand long on the ninth, losing serve for the only time while trying to close out the match at 5-2 in the third set. By then, the match was 1 hour, 45 minutes old — and it would last another seven minutes.

The No. 2-seeded Federer is seeking his sixth title at the U.S. Open, but first in a decade.

He would face 13-time major champion Djokovic if each wins three more matches.

About 2 hours into the day’s schedule, the U.S. Tennis Association decided to do something it never had at this tournament: offer men the chance to take a 10-minute break before the fourth set if a match went that far. That is similar to the existing rule for women, which allows for 10 minutes of rest before a third set when there is excessive heat.

U.S. OPEN: Scores | Men’s Draw | Women’s Draw

The whole thing raised several questions: Should the genders have the same rules moving forward? Should the U.S. Open avoid having matches during the hottest part of the day, not just for the players’ sake but also to help spectators? Should the men play best-of-three-set matches at majors, instead of best-of-five? Should the 25-second serve clock, making its Grand Slam debut here, be shut off to let players have more time to recover between points?

“At the end of the day, the ATP or a lot of the supervisors, they’re kind of sitting in their offices, where (there’s) an A.C. system on, where it’s cool. And we have to be out there. They tell us it’s fine; they’re not the ones playing,” said No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev, who won in straight sets in the early evening, when it was far less harsh. “For sure, the rule should be more strict. There should be a certain temperature, certain conditions where we shouldn’t be playing.”

How bad was it out there at its worst Tuesday?

“Bloody hot,” said two-time major semifinalist Johanna Konta, who lost 6-2, 6-2 to No. 6 Caroline Garcia.

“Brutal,” said 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic, who advanced when his opponent retired in the third set.

“Really not easy,” said three-time Grand Slam title winner Angelique Kerber, who defeated Margarita Gasparyan 7-6 (5), 6-3.

“Terrible. It’s awful out there,” said Tennys Sandgren, an American who won in straight sets and will face Djokovic in the second round. “I don’t know how guys are hanging in there. I was thinking in the third set, like, ‘It’s getting really bad. I just don’t know how long I have to play out there.’ And I think everybody kind of feels similarly.”

Djokovic certainly did.

“Everything is boiling — in your body, the brain, everything,” said Djokovic, who’s won two of his 13 Grand Slam titles in New York but sat out last year’s U.S. Open because of an injured right elbow.

He is a popular pick to hoist the trophy again, coming off a Wimbledon title in July and a victory over Federer in the final of the hard-court Cincinnati Masters in August.

Djokovic was appreciative of the chance for a chance to recover a bit after the third set. He even took about a minute for a quick ice bath — as did Fucsovics, nearby.

“Naked in the ice baths, next to each other,” Djokovic said. “It was quite a magnificent feeling, I must say.”

Because action began at 11 a.m., and the USTA implemented the heat rule for men at about 1 p.m., those playing in the earliest matches weren’t able to get that sort of relief.

That included Italy’s Stefano Travaglia, who quit in the fourth set of his match after feeling dizzy and cramps. Afterward, he said, he could barely walk.

“My head was spinning. … I didn’t have any energy. I saw four balls when I swung. It was a terrible feeling. I couldn’t stay on court,” he said. “There was no sense in continuing. Things probably would have gotten worse. I probably would have hurt myself.”

Travaglia also thought it wasn’t fair that the USTA’s decision to offer the 10-minute breaks came too late for him.

“We all should play with the same rules in this sport. Unfortunately, they don’t ask (players) anything, and they decide,” he said. “If they’re going to have a break, they need to say so in the morning, before matches begin — not after I almost was going to pass out because my blood pressure was so low.”

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World Cup Alpine season opener gets green light

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After checking the snow on the Rettenbach glacier in Soelden, Austria, FIS officials announced Thursday that the traditional World Cup season opener is set to go ahead as planned Oct. 26-27 with men’s and women’s giant slalom races.

Current conditions at Soelden show a solid 30 inches of snow at the summit. The race finishes at an altitude of 2,670 meters (8,760 feet), far above the currently snowless village.

The first races of the season are never guaranteed to have enough snow, though last year’s men’s race at Soelden had the opposite problem, being canceled when a storm blew through with heavy snowfall and high winds. 

France’s Tessa Worley won the women’s race last year ahead of Italy’s Frederica Brignone and U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who would go on to dominate the rest of the World Cup season.

The Soelden weekend is followed by three dormant weeks until the season resumes Nov. 23-24 in Levi, Finland. The World Cup circuits then switch to North America. The men will run speed events Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Lake Louise, Alberta, then head to Beaver Creek, Colo., for more speed events and a giant slalom Dec. 6-8. The women run slalom and giant slalom Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Killington, Vt., and head to Lake Louise the next weekend.

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Olympic marathon and race walk move from Tokyo to Sapporo draws some pushback

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In the wake of a dropout-plagued set of world championship endurance races in Qatar, moving the 2020 Olympic marathons and race walks from Tokyo to the cooler venue of Sapporo is a quick fix for one problem, pending the potential for untimely heat waves.

But the move has drawn some opposition for a variety of reasons.

First, many organizers and politicians appear to have been caught by surprise. Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, was “taken aback” and Sapporo’s mayor, Katsuhiro Akimoto, learned about the move from the media, Kyodo News reported. Koike even sarcastically suggested that the races could move all the way northward to islands disputed by Russia and Japan.

South African sports scientist Ross Tucker suggested that running in heat and humidity poses an interesting challenge for athletes, some of whom may be able to catch up with faster runners by preparing for the conditions.

British marathoner Mara Yamauchi made a similar point, saying the move was unfair to those who already were preparing for the heat, humidity and other conditions.

Belgian marathoner Koen Naert said he will make the best of the change but complained that some of his preparation and every runner’s logistical planning would no longer apply.

The angriest athlete may be Canadian walker Evan Dunfee, who placed fourth in the 2016 Olympic 50km race and nearly claimed bronze as a Canadian appeal was upheld but then rejected. He says runners and walkers can beat the conditions if they prepare, which many athletes did not do for the world championships in Qatar.

“So why do we cater to the ill prepared?” Dunfee asked on Twitter.

The move also takes athletes out of the main Olympic city and takes away the traditional, tough less frequent in modern years, finish in the Olympic stadium.

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