Heat Now the Theme at Australian Open

Article excerpt

The weather at the Australian Open has been so hot that the tournament has finally justified its place as one of the four Grand Slam events. The searing heat - this must be hard to imagine when you are getting frostbite at your local club - pushed the mercury to 104 degrees, resulting in on-court temperatures above 120.

The Australian Open is the bastard son no longer. The only one of the big four events routinely passed over by top players will forever be a required stop for any real tennis player after this year's event. The tournament played at the wrong time of the year and thousands of miles from anything finally has a theme - heat.

Steffi Graf's energy was so sapped that she actually lost during the first week of a Grand Slam event, something that happens to her only once every three years. The other two top women's seeds, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Conchita Martinez, also melted in the early rounds, making the 1997 Australian Open the only Grand Slam event in the modern era to lose its top three seeds before the quarterfinals.

After Pete Sampras posted a five-set win over someone he admittedly couldn't pick out of a police lineup, he declared, "It's so hot, it's a joke." Goran Ivanisevic called the tournament "a killer." Dominique van Roost, who beat Sanchez Vicario, called the conditions "inhumane."

Sure, it's always hot Down Under this time of year, but it has never been hot enough for tournament officials to order the retractable roof over the stadium court (which was built for rain) closed because of heat.

Incidentally, Michael Chang asked that the roof be left open so he could wear his opponent down quicker. Because of this, the 5-foot-9 Chang replaces Thomas Muster as tennis's unofficial iron man.

As the history of the Australian Open proves, it takes more than tradition to be taken seriously. It takes a defining characteristic, a seemingly insurmountable obstacle for a player to overcome before he or she can win the title. Wimbledon has its endless rain delays and bizarre scheduling rituals. The French Open has the slow, red clay courts that require you be fit and trim for long matches. …