There’s A Very Good Reason The Australian Open Keeps The Roof Open In Crazy Heat

Last night, Australian Open officials opted to close the Rod Laver Arena’s roof so that the men’s singles final could be played in cooler conditions. The decision caused some controversy, with many wondering why the roof wasn’t closed during prior matches when temperatures were even hotter.

It turns out there’s a very good reason why most Australian Open matches are played sans roof – and not just because it takes ages to close the damn thing. We spoke to Australian tennis legend Lleyton Hewitt who gave us a simple explanation.

This year’s Australian Open had many commentators wondering the same thing: why should players be forced to duke it out in the sweltering Aussie heat when the Rod Laver Arena has a perfectly good roof? With the court temperature sometimes exceeding 60 degrees Celsius, the playing conditions arguably bordered on the inhumane.

It wasn’t just regular joes who thought this either – a raft of professionals including New York Times tennis reporter Ben Rothenberg were also calling for a closed court:

Simona Halep was reportedly hospitalised for dehydration following her defeat to Caroline Wozniacki in the women’s final. Other players complained to umpires about extreme fatigue in the heat of play.

Needless to say, athletes suffering from heat exhaustion do not play to the best of their abilities which impacts the quality of games. Literally everybody loses. So what is to be gained by keeping the roof up?

This question was posed to former Australian champion Lleyton Hewitt during an Australian Open event hosted by MasterCard. Hewitt broke down precisely why the Rod Laver Arena rarely closes its roof. In short, it all comes down to an issue of fairness:

Playing five sets in these conditions is not easy at all. But if we close the roof on centre court, you’ve got to think of the guys who are out on court 23 playing at exactly the same time. They’ve got to go through those conditions without the roof closed or any other comforts to help them get through. We’d basically just be helping the best players.

Until the Australian Open fits every court with a retractable roof, it’s unfair to allow certain matches to compete in the air-conditioned shade. This would be stacking the tournament in the favour of higher-seeded players who get to play all their matches on roofed courts.

This becomes particularly problematic if an open-court player is then expected to face a closed-court opponent for their next match. As Hewitt explains:

“The [open court] guys might not be able to come up in two days’ time physically, which makes it an unfair fight. I personally feel the roof should only be closed if it’s raining.”

This also helps to explain why the men’s singles final was played with the roof closed despite being an evening match. With everyone else knocked out of contention, nobody was put at an unfair disadvantage.

With all that said, it’s important to remember that this is an open court tournament. Playing on closed courts whenever the temperature gets a bit ugly isn’t really an option.

Perhaps a better debate is why we need to hold the Australian Open in January at all? Sure, rescheduling would play havoc with other tournaments, but Aussie summers are only going to get worse in the years ahead.

Lifehacker travelled to the Australian Open as a guest of MasterCard.

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