Watching the Australian Open in a Heatwave

Even though I’ve been going to the Australian Open for years, my first day at Melbourne Park in the 2014 heatwave was quite the learning experience. By the next day, I had sorted out how to best cope with 40+ heat at the tennis.

So, what follows are 15 suggestions as to how to save yourself from complete desolation while at the Open in the Melbourne heat…and 5 suggestions to tournament organisers as to what they could do to improve the spectator experience in such oppressive weather.

TO THE FANS

1) Put sunscreen on before you leave home, regardless of your transport to Melbourne Park. Otherwise, if you’re sitting or standing on the wrong side of the bus/tram/train on your way in for too long, you’ll be burnt before you’ve even finished your morning ride.

2) Drink at least a litre of water before you leave home. Regardless of where you’re sitting, you will be sweating from the moment you reach your seat.

3) Take the free tram to Melbourne Park. Don’t worry about how hot and sweaty all of the people crammed into the trams look. Their journey is faster and less uncomfortable than that of those who are stupid enough to walk from town to the venue in such heat. Also, if you’re going to the Hisense Arena side of the grounds, stay on the tram when everyone else gets off at the Rod Laver stop out the back of Garden Square, as there’s a tram stop next to Hisense too.

4) Take at least two of the right kind of water bottles with you. Avoid the kinds of water bottles that a hockey goalie puts on top of his net, as there are only a couple of places around the grounds that have taps tall enough to put those bottles under. Instead, bring Mount Franklin or Pump-style bottles that you can fill up in the toilets, enabling you to avoid the massive lines at the taller drink stations. Bringing at least two means that you’ll halve the number of times you need to leave your seat to fill them during the day. On my first day, I drank more than 3 litres…but that evening, my calves made it very clear that I hadn’t consumed nearly enough. The next day, I started aiming to take on a 600ml bottle per set, and felt far better. 

5) Check out the taps in the nearby toilets before going into your match. There are just a couple of toilets around Rod Laver and Hisense that have very old sinks, where you can’t fit any kind of drink bottle under the taps. Nothing worse than finding yourself trying to fill up your bottles quickly, so as to just miss 2 games between changeovers, only to find yourself in the one dodgy group of toilets and not knowing the quickest route to other ones.

6) The bigger the walls, the more comfortable the shade. Shaded seats in Rod Laver and Hisense are far more comfortable than those on Margaret Court. Even seats under the shadecloths on Courts 2 and 3 are far too oppressive for most people during a heatwave.

7) The crowd will be smaller than usual, so you can move between courts more freely. When it’s expected to be over 40, literally thousands of people who would otherwise be there choose to avoid Melbourne Park. This means that seats on all courts, including those in the shade on Court 2 and Court 3, are likely to be available all day. At about 6:00pm on Wednesday, once the sun had disappeared behind thick clouds, the feral heat had lessened, and a breeze had arrived, I headed out from my sheltered seat on Hisense to watch Bouchard play on Court 2. I nabbed a seat in the shade just after the preceding match had finished. Next to me was a Canadian fella who’d rushed to his shaded seat on the baseline as the gates to Melbourne Park had opened at 10:00am, just to ensure he had a great seat for Bouchard’s match that evening. Little did he know that he could have been in his own dramatically cooler and more comfortable Hisense seat all day and rocked up just as Bouchard was about to take the court.

8) Accept a shorter day than usual. Never before in my many years of attending the Open had I only watched 3 matches per day. This year, though, each match was far more draining for fans than usual. New tactics came into play, such as my choosing to sit in Hisense’s air conditioned downstairs area while listening to AO Radio and reading the program during the Rogowska-Svitolina match on Day 4. By avoiding some of the heat in the middle of the day, I knew I’d be fine to make it through Tsonga-Bellucci, Radwanska and Federer later in the day. You might be ok if you’re only attending for one day, but if you’re planning to go to consecutive days in a heatwave, you may need to play more defensively.

9) Ease off on the grog. Every 40+ day, I overheard Aussies desperately trying to explain to their mates from overseas just how bad the mix of alcohol and extreme heat can be.

10) Reapply your sunscreen no matter where you’re sitting. This applies regardless of the temperature, actually. The most common rookie-mistake of Aus Open attendees is not realising that even though they’re sitting in the shade, they need sunscreen on their face as otherwise the glare from the court can burn them to a crisp.

11) Bring one of those small cooler-bag-things. Otherwise, the food you’ve brought from home has melted and you’re stuck buying food that isn’t worth half of what you pay for it.

12) The indoor area surrounding Hisense Arena is your friend. While the indoor area surrounding Rod Laver Arena isn’t air conditioned, the equivalent in Hisense is beautiful. It’s a damn hot walk between the two though, so there’s a trade-off for seeking such shelter.

13) Please, please leave the little tackers at home. As a dad of a 2-year-old, I can list many reasons as to why the tennis isn’t the best sporting event for kids of that age. But taking a kid to the Open on a normal day is a gift in comparison to taking one in a heatwave. Nothing worse than seeing an 18-month-old, flaked out in his Dad’s arms, stuck sitting on his Dad’s sweaty lap for hours in a stadium when it is over 40 degrees. While he was sucking on his dummy and desperately wishing he was somewhere cooler, we were wondering if we should call Child Protection.

14) Bring a change of shirt and a small towel. Very occasionally, my wife has a good idea. This year, she suggested I take a spare t-shirt in the bag so that I could replace my sweat-soaked one during the afternoon and have something fresher to wear. Genius.

15) Be patient with everyone - you’re still at the Happy Slam! Melbourne Park in January is one of my favourite places in the world. Everyone’s always enjoying themselves, the atmosphere, and the joy of being allowed to share in a world-class sporting event for a time without worrying about anything more pressing than who might win and what match they might like to watch next. This year, people were hot, bothered, and some were lacking in patience with each other in a way I’d rarely seen at the Open before. This was especially disappointing when people were impatient with ushers and other volunteers who were working for free while dealing with the heat themselves. If you feel your frustration growing, step back and either (1) realise how much fun the event still is, or (2) go home.

TO THE AUSTRALIAN OPEN ORGANISERS

1) Re: Usher Training. The most important information to teach your ushers on outside courts is where the shade will be throughout the day. Upon entering the newly-renovated Margaret Court Arena, I approached the first usher I saw: “So, I knew exactly where to sit to be in shade all day before these walls came along…do you know where I should sit these days?” While he answered confidently, he had no idea, directing me to an area that I knew was going to be in the sun within minutes. I asked another usher, who admitted that she too had no clue. While I’m proud to say that I guessed correctly and I nailed a shady seat, many people didn’t.

2) Re: The Heat Rule. When the Heat Rule is invoked, have the umpire inform the crowd immediately, even if it doesn’t influence the players until the end of the set. That way, fans will know not to leave Rod Laver or Hisense to go to another court if play has already ceased on outside courts. It also means that people will know that there’s a 10 minute break coming between the 2nd and 3rd sets of a women’s match, rather than running out and missing a bit of play late in the 2nd set to fill up the drink bottles, only to return to find that they could easily have made the journey during the 10 minute break.

3) Re: Onsite Food. Any chance of there being more places around the grounds that sell food that isn’t hot?

4) Re: The Hisense Scoreboard. The scoreboard operators around the grounds and in Rod Laver are consistently excellent, always showing score updates from other courts during changeovers. Except for the people in Hisense, who never seemed to think this was necessary this year. Please bring them up to speed.

5) Re: Public Service Announcements. Along with the other announcements you put on scoreboards occasionally, how about telling people that they need to keep reapplying sunscreen to their faces as they can be sunburnt simply from the glare on the court? Such a common mishap that is so easily avoided.

Enjoy the Open, everyone – even in the heat, it’s an incredible ride!

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