New York’s heat casts op­pres­sive shadow

Play­ers have been suf­fer­ing in the high tem­per­a­tures and the new roof may not be help­ing, writes Jesse Spec­tor

The Observer - Sport - - Tennis -

Athun­der­storm tore through New York on Thurs­day evening and, for once in ten­nis, the drench­ing was wel­come. Thanks to the roof at Arthur Ashe Sta­dium, the US Open women’s semi- fi­nals pro­ceeded on sched­ule. Out­doors, mean­while, the storm brought a 10C drop in tem­per­a­ture in an hour, fi­nally break­ing a heat­wave that had gripped the tour­na­ment.

The prob­lem has not only been that day­time tem­per­a­tures have soared – Thurs­day was the eighth time in 11 days of the Open with highs of 32C or above – it has also stayed hot and hu­mid after the sun went down.

“I t was very hot tonight,” Roger Fed­erer said on Tues­day, after the five- times cham­pion’s loss to John Mill­man. “[ It] was just one of those nights where I felt I couldn’t get air. There was no cir­cu­la­tion at all. For some rea­son I just strug­gled in the con­di­tions . It’s one of the first times that’s hap­pened to me.”

Maybe that is be­cause Fed­erer is 37 or maybe the con­di­tions have been just that harsh . “The night­time warmth – and we know these matches go after mid­night some­times – it’s still in the 80s,” says the Rut­gers Univer­sity pro­fes­sor Dave Robinson, the New Jersey state cli­ma­tol­o­gist. “Granted, you don’t have the sun beat­ing down on you, but as the night wears on, it’s stay­ing warm and hu­mid. This is a health haz­ard writ large for com­mu­ni­ties, par­tic­u­larly ur­ban com­mu­ni­ties, and this is also some­thing that has been noted: more el­e­vated min­i­mum tem­per­a­tures than el­e­vated max­i­mum tem­per­a­tures.”

In­deed, five times dur­ing this year’s US Open, there have been record high min­i­mum tem­per­a­tures set at the LaGuardia air­port weather sta­tion, three miles from Arthur Ashe Sta­dium. There was some ex­pec­ta­tion that Thurs­day might bring a sixth record but the storm’s cooling ef­fect meant that his­tory was missed as the low came in at 24C, just be­fore mid­night. There is cold com­fort and then there is what­ever that is.

While the heat is off this week­end, with highs in New York not ex­pected to reach 27C again un­til Tues­day, the ques­tion that ten­nis must face is about the fu­ture. Does more have to be done to pro­tect play­ers’ health in an in­creas­ingly ath­letic and phys­i­cally chal­leng­ing sport, at a time when cli­mate change is likely to make tem­per­a­tures even more pun­ish­ing?

“I’m not the weather guy ,” No­vak Djokovic said after his firstround match. “I’m a ten­nis player. I leave that to some­one else, to an­a­lyse what has his­tor­i­cally hap­pened in terms of the weather con­di­tions go­ing back.

“I’ve no­ticed also 30, 40, 50 years ago, we had tour­na­ments where we had ex­treme heat con­di­tions. It goes up and down. All the pol­lu­tion and ev­ery­thing that this world is do­ing at the mo­ment to na­ture doesn’t help. At the same time, it is an out­door sport that we are a part of. You have to just ac­cept it and deal with it.”

The weather guy agrees with Djokovic about the past also hav­ing heat. Robinson notes that around this time in 1953, New York en­dured per­haps its most op­pres­sive heat­wave . That year, the United States Cham­pi­onships, the Open’s fore­run­ner, was at For­est Hills, three miles south of to­day’s site at Flush­ing Mead­ows. How hot was it? Four of LaGuardia’s record highs are from that 10- day stretch . The dif­fer­ence is that was a one- off heat­wave, while the past two weeks have been part of a global trend.

“It’s part of an evolv­ing pat­tern of warmth across the mid- At­lantic and in a global sense as well,” Robinson says. “There’s no ques­tion that the sum­mer months are get­ting warmer. We just com­pleted the fifth- warm­est sum­mer [ cli­ma­to­log­i­cally, June- Au­gust] in New Jersey, dat­ing back to 1895. Nine of the 10

warm­est sum­mers have all been since 1999, all in the last 20 years. Au­gust was just the sec­ond- warm­est on record.

“Opens like this are go­ing to be more com­mon in the fu­ture. Can I en­vis­age an Open in the next fi ve years, or 10 years, shat­ter­ing five daily min­i­mum tem­per­a­ture records? No, that’s pretty ex­treme. But I can en­vis­age the av­er­age tem­per­a­ture of this late sum­mer pe­riod con­tin­u­ing to in­crease in the decades ahead. So, if you’re plan­ning your in­fra­struc­ture for the year 2025 or 2035, you’re go­ing to fi nd years like this more com­mon.”

The good news at the US Open is that the Bil­lie Jean King Na­tional Ten­nis Cen­ter just up­graded its in­fra­struc­ture with a sec­ond roofed arena, the re­built Louis Arm­strong Sta­dium. Not that a roof solves the prob­lems of heat. Last week sug­gested it may stop cooling breezes.

Fed­erer said: “I do be­lieve since the roof is on that there is no air cir­cu­la­tion in the sta­dium. Just that makes it a to­tally dif­fer­ent US Open.”

Be­sides, as Djokovic said ten­nis is an out­door sport – and one played around the world, all year round, mostly in warm places.

The heat­wave has bro­ken in Queens but the onus is most defi nitely on tour­na­ment or­gani sers in New York and around the world to pur­sue ways to pre­serve the health of the play­ers, whether it is more breaks in the ac­tion, more in­door fa­cil­i­ties, or a change in the cal­en­dar.

“It was a re­ally tough day,” the de­fend­ing women’s cham­pion, Sloane Stephens, said after her exit in the quar­ter- fi nals. “The heat doesn’t make it any more fun.”

Sloane Stephens feels the heat from her op­po­nent Anas­tasija Sev­as­tova

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