Frank Dancevic fainted, Caroline Wozniacki saw her bottle melt on the ground and Benoît Paire said: "It’s not tennis, it's Survivor". It's an understatement to say that the first week of the Australian Open was only about tennis. There was also a big climatic and/or medical issue: playing in the scorching heat can quickly become a nightmare for the players and their bodies. But then, how you can ever be sure to have the best playing conditions, where, when, how?
"I would say it’s much better to play at Wimbledon in June than in Melbourne in January. London's climate is milder, with temperatures around 20, 25 degrees and extremes which aren't the same at all, says François Gourand meteorologist at the national French weather channel Meteo France. Melbourne's climate is subject to the influence of the Southern Ocean. When the wind is moving north, it brings an extremely hot desert air." The meteorologist then gets to the point: "At Melbourne in March, the conditions are much better. The calendar seems inconsistent from this point of view. "
Something confirmed by the players. "Even if the wind and rain often make an appearance, the best conditions for outdoor matches are those of Roland Garros or Wimbledon with temperatures around 20 degrees," says Julien Varlet, former 135th player in the world. "In terms of playing conditions, Doha early in the year is pretty good, says Florent Serra, who isn’t in Melbourne this year. The temperatures are between 20 and 25 degrees, the weather is dry, the air base is cool. But I'd rather be too cold than too hot."
Northern Sahara in winter
Ok, but as the wind and rain in London, there’s also a risk of sandstorm there. So we can’t help but wonder: where would it be possible to find these temperatures without the hazards? "Around the Mediterranean sea, between November and March, it’s not too wet and it’s not too hot either. Spain, Italy, Greece," replies François Gourand, before continuing: "In fact, the only places in the world where the playing conditions would be optimal are actually the northern Sahara, in the winter, when it’s around 20 degrees and where the risk of rain doesn’t exist, the Death Valley at the beginning of the calendar year or Easter Island." A word to the wise... Even if the best way to regulate the temperature and avoid the unexpected caused by a capricious weather is still to play indoor. Except that more than half of the season is played outdoors. Duly noted.
For that matter, what is the best time to play? "Between 5 and 6 pm, a schedule that allows time for a muscle stretching in the morning and for digestion after lunch," according to Julien Varlet. Florent Serra prefers to play earlier: "In the second or first rotation in the late morning or early afternoon, because after, the waiting time is too long." Bernard Montalvan, doctor for the France team closes the debate: "The ideal is to play two hours after a meal."
"Tennis is played with the unexpected"
But basically, for the man who has been looking after French players for over 20 years, the climatic conditions are only a random variable of the game that is tennis. Best, they make the sport. "That's tennis," claims the doctor. Meaning: wind, rain, matches in five sets interrupted four times, matches started at 9pm and ended two days later are part of this game and have built its history and legends. We remember for example Pete Sampras vomiting during his match against Alex Corretja one night of September 1996 at the U.S. Open, in agony. We also remember, amongst others, Andy Roddick out of breath and hampered by cramps overcoming Michael Chang at Roland Garros in 2001 and becoming a legend in front of the audience.
"The weather conditions are part of tennis, a sport that is played with the unexpected. Heat is part of the Australian tour. According to him, tennis is the only sport where you don't know when it will start or when it will end." Julien Varlet seems to agree before concluding his point by saying that "Tennis is made of frustration and constant adaptation." Better, it is often crucial to decide between two opponents. To have a winner and a loser. Someone who can master the elements, the environment and use it as a motor. Because as the France team doctor reminds succinctly: "We must also understand that the weather is never a problem for the best players in the world."
By Antoine Mestres