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By Richard Pagliaro | Thursday, September 7, 2023


“You cannot imagine…one player gonna die and then you gonna see,” Daniil Medvedev said during his quarterfinal win over Andrey Rublev played in brutally hot conditions on Ashe Stadium.

Photo credit: Sarah Stier/Getty

NEW YORK—Arthur Ashe Stadium sits on the Valley of the Ashes.

A drained Daniil Medvedev feels the burn.

More: Ostapenko Bemoans “Crazy Scheduling”

Stifling heat and humidity staggered both Medvedev and his opponent and buddy Andrey Rublev during Wednesday afternoon’s US Open quarterfinal played in brutal conditions.

At times, Medvedev leaned on his Tecnifibre racquet as if it were a cane, while Rublev looked even more unsteady.

Arthur Ashe Stadium is located on a former New York City sanitation site author F. Scott Fitzgerald famously described as the "Valley of the Ashes" in his acclaimed novel The Great Gatsby. What was once incinerator is now incendiary experience for some.

On a sticky, sweltering day that left both men gulping deep breaths of air between points, Medvedev wrapped ice towels around his neck on changeovers, combated blurry vision, called for the tournament doctor at one point and summed up the suffering in steam bath conditions with a candid confession late in the third set.

“You cannot imagine…one player gonna die and then you gonna see,” Medvedev said into the court-side camera during a draining 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 victory.

The men’s quarterfinal was played with the retractable roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium partially closed to provide some shade on the court as stifling temperatures soared above 90 degrees.

Embed from Getty Images

Afterward, Medvedev said the blistering heat actually burned the skin off his nose and left him pondering one simple question: When is it deemed too dangerous to play in searing heat?

“Brutal conditions for both of us,” Medvedev said. “I don't know if it could be seen through the camera, because we are sweating so much and use a lot of towels, I have no skin left on my nose here, and, like, here it's red, but it's not because of the sun so it's not like you're burned but I have no skin left.

“I just saw Andrey in the locker room and his face very red, and it's also not because of the sun so I guess it's the same. That tells everything, like we left everything out there. The thing is that even if it would go further I think we would still leave even more. Then I don't think I had anything left but if the match would go on I would find something more. And the only thing that is a little bit, let's call it dangerous, is that the question is how far could we go?”

The 2021 US Open champion’s comments raised a question: Could we see a casualty of competing in torrid conditions?

Or are calls for closing the retractable roof coming from players who simply can’t handle the heat that comes with competing in the major cauldron that is Arthur Ashe Stadium?

One reason no man has successfully defended the US Open title since Roger Federer back in 2008 is because defending the Flushing Meadows major is arguably the most punishing physical task in tennis.

As a competitor, combustible John McEnroe could blow the lid off the stadium.

As a commentator, McEnroe calls on the USTA to show sanity and close the retractable roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium to protect players and fans from extreme heat. McEnroe says this is a health issue.

“These poor guys today … they looked like they’re going to fall over. It’s not humane in a way,” McEnroe said during ESPN’s coverage of the men’s quarterfinals on Wednesday. “I’m sorry. Please, USTA, in the future, I think seriously we should close the roof.”

Brother Patrick McEnroe, former General Manager of USTA Player Development, repeatedly called on US Open officials to fully shot the retractable roof and crank up the air conditioning to protect players from the health hazards of the heat.

Given the USTA spent $150 million to build the retractable roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium, you’d think the tournament would take any opportunity to use the technology, protect players’ health and promote the highest quality of play, right?

The US Open does have a heat rule in play and has partially closed the roof over Ashe Stadium during recent days—though not fully closed—to provide much-needed shade. The tournament heat policy permits players to take a longer break between sets when the temperature rises above 86.2 degrees Fahrenheit.

However, there are three main reasons why the US Open does simply shut the retractable roof and crank up the air conditioning in Ashe during 90-degree days:

1. US Open officials say this is an open air tournament and want to preserve that tradition where the elements—including sun, heat and wind—are a factor.

2. Not all players agree on shutting the roof in extreme heat. Some players, who feel fitness and stamina is their strength, and others, who simply enjoy playing in the heat, are opposed to closing the roof.

3. Players who compete on the outer courts, which are uncovered, would be at a competitive disadvantage toiling in the heat while stars play in the cooler confines of the stadium.

The USTA has consistently maintained its commitment to hosting the US Open as an open-air tournament, which is why the retractable roof is not closed more frequently.

In fact, back in 2016 when the USTA officially unveiled the retractable roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium, Tennis Now asked officials if they would close the roof in the event of extreme wind or heat.

Longtime US Open fans will remember wind whipping off nearby Flushing Bay created havoc in past US Open matches. Tomas Berdych called the blustery 25 mph wind gusts that blew a chair onto court "impossible" after his 2012 US Open semifinal loss to Andy Murray. Those unruly conditions were not as extreme as the sometime tennis typhoon that was the 2004 U.S. Open quarterfinal between Roger Federer and Andre Agassi.

"We're really not closing the roof for heat purposes," then USTA Executive Director Gordon Smith told Tennis Now during the 2016 ceremony debuting the roof. "We want this tournament to remain a test of the elements. But we need to be able to hold the tournament when it rains.

"The beauty of this is with the roof, the wind is greatly reduced. We're going to reduce the wind and have a very competitive environment with the roof open or closed."

Of course ideal temperature, like string tension, is a matter of personal preference.

After losing her Grand Slam quarterfinal debut to Aryna Sabalenka on Thursday afternoon, China’s Zheng Qinwen said she wasn’t fazed by the steamy conditions that saw temperatures top 90 degrees and humidity surpass 50 percent humidity.

“For me it is not hot at all, these conditions. I wouldn't even consider this weather hot,” Zheng said. “This is a good temperature. Especially in the second set. We got shadow there.

“I mean, the first set was tricky because there is half shadow, half sun. Took me a while to get fast reaction in my eyes, but really in the second set, I honestly think that was good condition.”

The second-seeded Sabalenka, who trains in south Florida, said she felt prepared to play in searing conditions after sweaty practice days in the Sunshine State.

“I mean, it was hot, but yeah, because I did my preparation in Florida,” Sabalenka said. “I mean, what can be worse than Florida?

“I mean, in July and June, you know. Not like overall. So yeah, I think that's really help me today to, yeah, to stay strong and to, like, don't really get tired because of the heat.”

Medvedev, who points out playing best-of-five-set matches in the heat is much more demanding than best-of-three-sets, opposes shortening men’s major matches to best-of-three sets.

Though he doesn’t propose a solution to the searing challenge, Medvedev believes US Open officials must act to address conditions and ensure the healthy and safety of players and spectators.

Ultimately, Medvedev asserts, it’s important to confront the issue now before a player is hurt by the heat.

“At the same time I'm telling because maybe I'm going to finish my career and nothing is gonna happen and then it's fine, then I'm talking for nothing, but the question is we don't want something to happen and then say, Oh, my God, Medvedev said this a couple of years ago,” Medvedev said. “But I don't have the solution, because even if we say let's play all the matches at night maybe on different stadiums, we saw Sinner-Zverev, they were not much better than us today with Andrey just because even at night New York can be really hot and humid.

“I don't have real solutions but it's still better to speak a little bit about it before something happens.”


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