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
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