Organisers of the Australian Open have unveiled the AO Heat Stress Scale as a means to better tackle the issues of extreme conditions during the tennis grand slam at Melbourne Park.

The 2019 Australian Open is due to run from January 14-27 and will be held after last year’s tournament was marked by several incidents of players suffering during matches held at the Park’s various arenas and courts.

A more extensive Extreme Heat Policy (EHP) is therefore set to be introduced as a result of cutting-edge research and testing into the specific effects of heat stress on tennis players. The research, conducted by Tennis Australia medical personnel in conjunction with the Thermal Ergonomics Laboratory at the University of Sydney, has led to the development of the AO HSS.

At previous Australian Opens, organisers could only activate the extreme heat policy and cease play or close arena roofs when the temperature exceeded 40 degrees Celsius and the Bureau of Meteorology’s wet bulb globe temperature index, the measurement used to estimate heat stress in humans, reached 32.5 Celsius.

Under the EHP, the tournament referee will allow a 10-minute break between the second and third sets in both women’s and junior singles matches and a 15-minute break in wheelchair singles matches when a 4.0 is recorded on the AO HSS prior to or during the first two sets of the match.

In the men’s singles a 10-minute break will be allowed after the third set when a 4.0 is recorded on the AO HSS prior to or during the first-three sets of the match.

If a 5.0 is recorded on the AO HSS, the tournament referee can suspend the start of matches on outside courts and all matches in progress continuing until the end of an even number of games in that set, or completion of the tiebreak, before play will be suspended.

Matches on Rod Laver Arena, Margaret Court Arena and Melbourne Arena will stop after an even number of games in that set or completion of the tiebreak when the tournament referee can decide to close the roof for the remainder of the match and the following matches, when the EHP is still in effect.

“The AO Heat Stress Scale takes advantage of the latest medical research into the effects of heat on the human body including the maximum heat stress an athlete can safely withstand, the sweat rate of that person and their core temperature,” Tennis Australia chief medical officer Dr Carolyn Broderick said.

“The scale also accounts for the physiological variances between adults, wheelchair and junior athletes while also taking into account the four climate factors – air temperature, radiant heat or the strength of the sun, humidity and wind speed – which affect a player’s ability to disperse heat from their body.”

The four climate factors will be measured in real time at five different locations across the Melbourne Park precinct, providing more information than the previous Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WGBT) readings.

Organisers have also detailed measures to make the Australian Open more comfortable for fans. Additional shade will be provided around the precinct, including at the AO Live Stage where popular bands and music acts will perform from January 13-27.

Giant misting fans have long been a popular enhancement around the grounds, but in 2019 the AO BallPark will feature a 12-metre water slide along with a Super Soaker Blast and Misting tunnel.

In addition, the first sports film festival held at a grand slam event will this year offer fans a chance to sit in an air-conditioned environment, with 14 days of daily screenings of world-class sports films and documentaries to be held at three locations.

Image: Australian Open