Heat on the Hard Courts of America
August 4, 2010 -- Hard court tennis is an American thing. Roll out a couple in a public park, throw up a net, paint the lines and you're in business. Even if the courts crack and sprout weeds people come out to play.
Touring pros obviously don't run over, or around, sprouting weeds on the hard courts across America during The U. S. Open Series tournaments. However, they do confront the major downside of this brand of court: massive waves of heat that radiate from the flat surface.
Air temperatures might be tolerable, like 88. But here in Washington, DC, humidity is as common as Capital Beltway backups. The combination of hot swampy air plus sun turns matches into fitness battles.
Ernests Gulbis, seeded #9, was the first to react poorly from today's weather. He lost the first set by three breaks of serve, committed five double faults, and retired early in the second set. He cited heat exhaustion. Needless to say, he didn't come in for his press conference. Word from the locker room was 'he's really sick.'
Gulbis played The Atlanta Championships a couple weeks ago, which his victorious opponent Iliya Marchenko characterized as worse.
"It was 40 degrees [about 110 degrees Fahrenheit] and sunny," the Ukrainian qualifier said, smiling. "It was difficult, but it was same for both of us."
Sam Querrey felt the pain today, too, losing in his opening round to a frisky Janko Tipsarevic 76 (3) 63, the same guy he'd beaten last week in the semifinals in Los Angeles at The Farmer's Classic.
"I feel like I'm one of the fittest guys on court," Sam said. "But today I was tired and it was tough out there."
He arrived in Washington on Monday, practiced a bit on Tuesday, and hit Stadium Court late this afternoon immediately after the sun had pounded it all afternoon.
"It's obviously different here than in L. A.," he said flatly. "Same courts, but it's really hot here... and humid."
Sam plans to take off a couple days then go to Toronto for Rogers Cup. His California laid-back personality made his loss today seem like a minor blip on his summer hard court tour. His confidence wasn't dented.
"I am still playing great," he said. "Last week was awesome, but it's tough to turn right around... I mean last Friday, Saturday and Sunday were three really tough two-and-a-half hour matches."
A big highlight of his shortened stay in the nation's capital came yesterday at the White House. Querrey along with Bob and Mike Bryan were on hand to support First Lady Michelle Obama's program to combat obesity. Since Mrs. Obama is in Spain, The President made a surprise appearance.
"Near the end [President] Barack [Obama] just kind of popped around the corner and was like 'Hey guys! What's up?" Sam said, smiling. "It think Bob, Mikey and myself, we're all going to remember it forever."
Lleyton Hewitt also retired early this evening from his match against Alejandro Falla. The hot, humid conditions didn't do in the Australian icon, but an injury to his right calf did. Falla moves on to play Janko Tipsarevic.
Swarming bugs, biting black flies, and high-pitched cicadas put the final touches on a summer of hard-court matches in America. When the lights come on for evening play, all you have to do is look up and observe masses of crazed flies about to be zapped.
Horacio Zeballos was so bugged by noise from a couple clamorous cicadas, he stopped in the middle of his serve once. "Be quiet," he yelled, in good humor. The pesky cicada cut the noise for a second obediently, but as soon as Zeballos went to serve, he belted out his vibrating tune. Zeballos hit an ace.