There were many interesting moments over the first two days of the Australian Open but none of these could beat the incessant talks about extremely hot weather conditions at Melbourne Park. On Monday, the first day of this year’s first grand slam, the maximum temperature in the afternoon was around 310 C, which shot to almost 430 C on Tuesday. Barely a week back, Melbourne had recorded a maximum/minimum temperature combination of 210/100 C and within 5-6 days, the killing heat arrived. On day 2 of the tournament, there were incidences of players vomiting during matches, as temperatures soared. Peng Shuai of China succumbed to heat and fell sick, while also losing her first round match to the Japanese Kurumi Nara. Another player, Canadian Franc Dancevic, fainted on court and required medical attention. But after regaining consciousness, he was asked to complete his match, which he lost 6-7, 3-6, 4-6 against Frenchman Benoit Paire.
Victoria Azarenka said that playing at Rod Laver Arena at 430 C was akin to a dance on the frying pan. Regardless, Azarenka played on, after a scare in the first set and finally defeated world No. 91 Johnanna Larsson of Sweden 7-6, 6-2. Organizers, however, were forced to introduce extreme heat contingency rule of extending the break between second and third sets for women’s matches. As for the possibility of suspending play, tournament director Wayne McKewen said that minimum set threshold conditions need to be reached for such decision. This threshold is governed by a scale based on temperature, humidity and wind.
Not all players had to play under the scorching sun, though. Maria Sharapova, for example, played the last match on day two, when it was reasonably cooler. The third seeded women’s player had a rather easy time in overcoming American Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-3, 6-4. In some of the other matches on day 2, no. 5 seed Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland had to run from pillar to post before defeating Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva 6-0, 5-7, 6-2; Serbian Jelena Jankovic beat Japan’s Misaki Doi 6-1, 6-2; eleventh seeded, Halep of Romania beat Poland’s Piter 6-0, 6-1 and Slovak woman Cibulkova beat Italian Schiavone 6-3, 6-4.
In the notable men’s matches on day 2, Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeated Italian Volandri 7-5, 6-3, 6-3; Del Potro beat Williams 6-3, 6-4, 6-4; Monfils beat Harrison 6-4, 6-4, 6-4; Klizan beat Isner 6-2, 7-6, when Isner retired after two sets.
Among the top men’s contenders, who advanced to the second round were; Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Roger Federer. Seeded sixth this year, Federer had a rather easy passage into the second round, while his new coach Stefan Edberg watched keenly from the stands.
The local crowd had a great first day, when their woman player Samantha Stosur scored a hard-fought 6-3, 6-4 win over Klara Zakopalova of the Czech Republic. Stosur trailed 1-4 in the second set and from there, she rallied to win five points in a row to pocket the match. And their men’s player Jordan Thompson almost upset the No.20 seed Jerzy Janowicz of Poland by taking the first two sets. But the big Pole fought back to win a marathon five-setter. However, the locals were not so lucky on day 2 as the legendary Lleyton Hewitt lost in a five-set duel against Italian Andreas Seppi 6-7, 3-6, 7-5, 7-5, 5-7. This was Hewitt’s 15th Australian Open. But for Hewitt the Australian Open is not over yet. He is playing in the doubles with another veteran, Pat Rafter, who had already gone into retirement. The 41-year old Rafter will be returning to any men’s doubles competition, after nine years. The idea to bring back Rafter was mooted by Hewitt, who also wanted to play doubles. Rafter and Hewitt came in through a wildcard and their first match is against American Eric Butorac and South African Raven Klaaasen.
Earlier, day one also had other interesting stories. The first was Venus Williams’ first round exit from the tournament. Venus was eliminated by Ekaterina Makarova of Russia in three sets, though she had a 3-0 lead in the decider. Makarova, however, prevailed and finally won 2-6, 6-4, 6-4. In the last three years, this was Venus’ third first-round loss in Grand Slam tournaments. She had similarly lost at Wimbledon, 2012 and French Open 2013. The first day of the Australian Open will also be remembered for the youngest women’s player in the tournament playing the oldest. The 16-year old Swiss qualifier, Belinda Bencic was pitted against the 43-year old Japanese veteran, Kimiko Date-Krumm. It was an incredibly fascinating duel before Bencic downed Date-Krumm in an engaging three-setter 6-4, 4-6, 6-3. Bencic is already the world’s No.1 junior player but this was her first Grand Slam. She is also the 2013 winner of Wimbledon and French Open junior titles.
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