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Sports Authority

Loughran: Beating the heat down under (Jan. 17)

| Friday, January 17, 2014

The players aren’t just battling the opponent on the other side of the net at this year’s Australian Open. They’re battling an even bigger and more uncontrollable opponent — the heat.

As the second round of the tournament came to a close Wednesday, the Melbourne sun kept beating down. And when I say beating down, I really mean beating down. We’re talking triple figures here. Temperatures have been a consistent 105 degrees Fahrenheit, peaking at a high of 109 degrees.

This heat is a force the players cannot control. It’s not like figuring out how to handle the speed of an opponent’s serve, keeping your ball in play, deciding how to move your opponent around the court or choosing when to hit a winner down the line.

There is nothing they can do about it. They just have to deal. Mentally and physically, the players are both combating it and suffering from it — the heat has caused some “meltdowns,” if you will.

Players across the board, including Andy Murray, Roger Federer, Victoria Azarenka and Sloane Stevens all showed in their matches that the secret to beat this heat is to forget about strategy and statistics — just manage yourself instead.

After watching some of the second-round matches myself, it was Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova that definitely showed just how important managing yourself proves in dealing with these scorching temperatures.

The No. 1 seed, Serena seemed to easily play her way through the heat. Unlike myself or the rest of us who probably would have simply said there’s no way we’re stepping onto that court in 105-degree weather, Williams crushed Vesna Dolonc 6-1, 6-2 in a quick one-hour, three-minute match.

Williams’ goal was clearly to get off the court as quickly as possible. And she did just that. She shortened her rallies and cut down on her errors — she managed herself.

Sharapova, on the other hand, found it trickier than Williams to beat the heat. But, after three hours and 28 minutes in 109-degree heat, she prevailed past Karin Knapp 6-3, 4-6, 10-8 and avoided a meltdown.  I started sweating myself just watching Sharapova battle through each point in that grueling heat.

I definitely would not say this was Sharapova’s most eloquent match. She threw away three match points and 13 out of 20 break-point chances, tallied 67 unforced errors and had a dozen double faults. Despite these stats, the match was one of the best I’ve ever watched. Sharapova and Knapp played phenomenally well given that they had to play for 43 minutes once the Extreme Heat Policy was implemented midway through their last 115-minute set. Having played tennis myself for over 15 years, I don’t think I could have ever pulled out a victory under those conditions like Sharapova did.

Her second-round win might not have been as efficient or as pretty as Williams’, but Sharapova proved how much more important perseverance is than looking good on the court in a “heated” situation like this.

Sharapova did not have great stats, but she held on when she had to, especially when she found herself tied 8-8 in the third set. It was the longest match of her career, yet she always seemed to come through and she never panicked. She came close to self-destructing in the last game, but her perseverance saved her. And my favorite thing about Sharapova — the heat never affected how she continued to go for those shots. She went for every ace and winner. She didn’t use the heat as an excuse not to.

There’s no sign of the hot temperatures dropping. The players are just going to have to keep taking those ice baths and even wearing those ice vests. All they can do is try to survive and beat their most challenging opponent at the Australian Open — the heat.

Contact Kit Loughran at [email protected]

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.


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