Tennis players struggle under the scorching Tokyo summer sun

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The “warm, sunny weather” Tokyo’s bid for the Summer Olympics promised in 2013 was nowhere to be found on the first day of the Tokyo Olympic tennis competition.

In fact, there was plenty of sun on Saturday at Ariake Tennis Park, but few would qualify the weather as mild.

“It’s different,” said Poland’s Iga Swiatek after her 6-2, 6-2 victory over Germany’s Mona Barthel. “It’s wet. In some places in the US it was probably similar, but still, I’m not used to it.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic took center stage, the threat posed by the sweltering summer heat in Tokyo was the major subject of the Tokyo Games. Concerns about the weather led organizers to move the marathon north to Sapporo and propose measures to protect fans and athletes from heatstroke.

The heat has already had an impact on the Games. A referee had to be assisted during a softball game, while Russian archer Svetlana Gomboeva passed out during the competition on Friday.

Russian tennis player Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova struggled with conditions against Sara Errani on Saturday. Pavlyuchenkova easily won 6-1, 6-1, but needed a medical break during the game and said he felt dizzy afterwards.

“It’s different,” Poland’s Iga Swiatek said of the heat after her 6-2, 6-2 victory over Germany’s Mona Barthel. “It’s wet. In some places in the US it was probably similar, but still, I’m not used to it. | REUTERS

“I wasn’t expecting it because I’ve been here for a few days now and I haven’t had this problem in training,” Pavlyuchenkova said. “Of course it was still very hot, but I think we are dealing with that, we had more break time between points, we were stopping. The game was different because you have less time between points. It was more intense and after long exchanges, it was really hard for me.

Players drank water and used ice to keep cool during breaks. Alexander Bublik from Kazakhstan poured the contents of his water bottle over his head at one point. Everything to beat the heat.

The maximum forecast in Tokyo on Saturday was 33 degrees Celsius. The hard court conditions at these Games can be difficult to manage when combined with the usual demands of a tennis match. The temperature during a match between Russian Daniil Medvedev and Bublik was 31.4 with 78% humidity just before 2:30 p.m.

“My perfect time is in Britain or maybe at Roland Garros 2020,” said Swiatek, referring to his victory at Roland Garros in Paris last year. “So I would say it’s hard to get used to. But I gave myself time because we came to Takasaki before going to the Olympic Village and we managed the humidity. Right now it’s a lot easier.

Italy's Fabio Fognini wipes his face with a towel during his first round match with Japan's Yuichi Sugita on Saturday in Tokyo.  |  AFP-JIJI
Italy’s Fabio Fognini wipes his face with a towel during his first round match with Japan’s Yuichi Sugita on Saturday in Tokyo. | AFP-JIJI

“But still, when the stress comes in, and all the different things you have in the game, it’s different.”

South Korean archer An San said on Friday conditions were similar to what she experienced in her homeland.

“In terms of weather, Korea is actually wetter than Japan, so I’m really used to that kind of weather,” she said. “But it’s definitely different from other countries where I’ve competed in other competitions. I think it had an effect on my condition today and on my performance.

As the tropical storm approaching Japan’s main island Honshu may give athletes a new weather-related issue, Tokyo’s not-so-mild summer may continue to be a concern.

Pavlyuchenkova said she would handle it the best she could to move forward.

“I don’t know if there is anything much different I can do to be honest,” she said. “Because it’s something you can’t control, I can’t control the heat or the weather. The only thing I think I can do is probably hydrate myself even more, have ice cold towels before the game, probably during warm-ups to have a lot of ice on me. Try to keep my body as cool as possible before going on court.

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