If there’s one thing that’s synonymous with the Australian Open, it’s the searing heat.
Players, officials and fans are forever commenting on the often-brutal conditions they are faced with when landing in Melbourne for the first Grand Slam of the calendar year.
Strangely enough, the past couple of years have seen a slightly cooler and wetter summer down under with the weather event, La Nina bringing temperatures down and record rainfall in some eastern parts of the country.
La Niña dissipated in March this year and it wasn’t long before meteorologists were warning of a different kind of weather event on the horizon, an El Niño.
With warmer than usual temperatures forecast over the Australian summer, it could have a significant impact on the summer of tennis.
Even with the presence of La Niña the Open wasn’t immune to vicious weather, with the tournament’s heat policy activated on the first Tuesday of this year’s event.
You can’t help but feel a touch concerned about what might unfold over the coming months.
Tennis Australia introduced its most recent heat policy in 2019 with four environmental factors (Temperature, humidity, wind speed and radiant heat) all helping grade a ‘heat scale’ from 1-5.
If the scale reaches level 4, players are entitled to longer breaks and if it reaches level 5, play is suspended on outside courts and all arenas with a roof must close before play can continue.
Thankfully, there are three stadiums with retractable roofs at Melbourne Park (Rod Laver Arena, Margaret Court Arena and Melbourne Arena) but a heat wave in the first week of the tournament could have all sorts of ramifications.
A period of suspended play could potentially force a number of players to play on back-to-back days and long into the night to ensure the tournament keeps on track.
Tickets for the second week are far more specific to the stage of the tournament and therefore places increased pressure on tournament organisers to meet deadlines to ensure fans are getting what they pay for.
Jannick Sinner’s recent retirement at the Paris Masters after winning through to the Round of 16 highlights how difficult it can be for players to be forced into competing after inadequate recovery time.
The Italian won his way into the last 16 at 2.37am and was expected to be on court later that day to face Australian, Alex de Minaur.
It lead to Sinner’s coach, Darren Cahill and a number of active players criticising the ATP via their X platform.
"2:45 a.m. Happy for the Jannik win, but zero care for the players' welfare with the Paris schedule." Cahill posted online.
No doubt AO tournament organiser, Craig Tiley will be doing everything in his power to ensure players aren’t faced with a similar situation to what Sinner was in Paris, but environmental factors could make life extremely difficult for all involved.
The World Meteorological Organization’s, Global Seasonal Climate Update further emphasized the prospect of above average temperatures for the coming months across the southern hemisphere.
"Consistent with the anticipated development of an El Niño … together with the prediction of above-normal sea-surface temperatures over much of the global oceans, there is widespread prediction of above-normal temperatures over almost all land areas.
Over most other Southern Hemisphere land areas north of about 30º S, the probabilities for above-normal temperature are strongly increased."
The impact of El Niño won’t be isolated to the Australian Open either, with the lead-up events across December and January equally as likely to be hit with challenging heat.
Perth, Brisbane, Canberra, Sydney, Adelaide and Hobart all host tournaments prior to the Australian Open and many with less heat-combatting infrastructure.
Those events are also mostly finished within one week, giving less flexibility to organisers to shuffle the decks if required.
Could players potentially reduce their schedule if rising forecasts become a reality? Will they prepare differently?
At this point in time there’s more questions than answers and the true impact won’t be known until play is close to getting underway but it’s no doubt on the minds of those running these tournaments across the summer.