MELBOURNE – Which way is the wind blowing?
That’s the most important question each morning as we prepare for the Australian Open (qualifying began this week on ESPN+ and then the main draw on Monday, Jan. 20 – Sunday evening in the U.S. on ESPN2).
As we kick off our “first-ball-to-last-ball-coverage” with nightly marathon telecasts, as you surely have heard, Australia has been ravaged in recent months by wild bushfires. Some of them are as close as 150 miles from Melbourne, home of the first Grand Slam event of the year.
Tuesday and Wednesday were challenging. The weather pattern brought winds filtering down from the northeast rather than the normal Westerlies. Smoke arrived from the harder hit eastern states, and once it got to Melbourne, it just stalled.
Rain and new winds, however, have begun to help clear conditions, but not before some players in qualifying visibly struggled. One young woman withdrew from her match.
Tennis Australia, the organizing body for the event, is, of course, closely monitoring the situation. It’s a day-by-day, hour-by-hour situation. Very similar to the Heat Rule policy, the tournament management group confers with meteorologists and the medical staff to assess the conditions and potential risk to players and fans.
For the first two days of qualifying, they delayed the start. If need be, there are eight indoor practice courts that could be utilized. Unfortunately, there’s no television capability there, which would impact our plans to present every match of qualifying and the tournament.
The entire situation is a challenge. You have a country in an unprecedented drought and tragedy. You have the issues of player and fan safety. And you have the Australian Open management and sponsors hoping to host a worldwide event in the face of adversity.
While recognized as an outdoor event, this is the only Grand Slam venue that has three stadiums with a retractable roof, so they can accommodate play if conditions were to become difficult during the Main Draw.
The entire situation is a challenge. You have a country in an unprecedented drought and tragedy. You have the issues of player and fan safety. And you have the Australian Open management and sponsors hoping to host a worldwide event in the face of adversity. Australians want to showcase their strength and resolve.
That’s why we’re all hoping for nothing but breezes from the west.