Andre and HUSWO, Page 3

The answer would seem to be that during the week of July 23rd, 1995, there was just no way out. Even matches started early in the morning or late at night would have been held in unfavorable conditions, albeit far less brutal than early afternoon heat.

There are several important lessons to be learned from the climatic problems of the ATP Legg Mason tennis tournament:

  • Cities are heat islands, but tennis courts can be virtual furnaces. For example, on May 10, 1998, in the Finals of the German Open Tennis Tournament held in Hamburg, Alex Corretja retired during the third set due to exhaustion. Courtside temperatures were reported to be 104F, while the highest temperature for that date at the Hamburg Airport was only 82F. At the Australian Open in 1997, Steffi Graf lost in the fourth round on a day when courtside temperatures reached 130F, while the high temperature at the Bureau of Meteorology about one mile away was only 100.6F. [Recent data from measurements made at the Atlanta Olympics showed the actual court surface temperature during play in Atlanta to be about 125F. This was roughly 10F warmer than a similarly-colored track surface in the Olympic stadium.] The air temperature at courtside in Washington for the Mason Legg finals (118F) was 25F higher than the simultaneous airport temperature. If the air at courtside showed 26% relative humidity (peak airport air temperature was 93F, simultaneous relative humidity 51%), the Heat Index on the tennis court would have been an incompensable 136F. The organizers were lucky no one died.

  • There are times of year in certain places which are so poorly suited to outdoor endurance competitions that event organizers should probably avoid them entirely. Our society is suffering from a sort of cultural amnesia in which common sense has been erased by technology. Until the advent of air-conditioning, summertime activity in much of the country was limited to fishing and watching the least-athletic of games (except for pitchers and catchers), baseball. (The Augusta National Golf Club continues to be closed annually from mid-May until October.)  Until the installation of air-conditioning in Federal office buildings, government workers in Washington were routinely sent home from work whenever the temperature/humidity index topped 90 degrees. In the second half of the 20th century, air-conditioning  defeated summer heat indoors.  For some weird reason we have just forgotten that this technology has left us even more vulnerable to the climatic problems which our forbears grimly coped with. We were never designed to play tennis in a Heat Index of 136 degrees. (See The Zunis Wonder Trainer.)

  • People learn. In response to the 1997 events, and in view of failure to sell out even outstanding matches (plus some difficulty in attracting a top field of players), the Legg Mason organizers are seriously considering changing the tournament format. The current 11 a.m Session + 7 p.m. Session format will probably be replaced with a single Session starting at 4 p.m. Examination of the charts shows that this will help by about 5 to 10 degrees. Whether this will be enough to allow the players to perform at their best or if they will continue to merely  stagger through wars of heat-induced attrition remains to be seen.
  • Post-script: For 1998, the Legg Mason ATP tournament organizers have announced that the competition will be changed. 5 courts will be used instead of 4, and a single session, starting at 4 p.m. will be utilized through the week. The event is also being moved back slightly on the calendar.

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