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

There’s A Very Good Reason The Australian Open Keeps The Roof Open In Crazy Heat
Image: Getty Images

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.


  • This was said a few times during the tournament, but ignored by everyone looking for a negative story on Federer. It was pointed out during the Djokovic v Monfils match a couple of times, pointing out their next opponent was also playing in the same heat. Personally, all games should have been suspended, but that’s me.

    If they move the tournament, when do they play it? February doesn’t solve the issue, and any later than that and you’re dodging the AFL and NRL seasons.

    Maybe play it in November or December, and make it the last tournament of the year? You lose the holiday advantage that bumps numbers up in January, but you could make it work as an end of year thing.

  • Perhaps a better debate is why we need to hold the Australian Open in January at all? There’s a reason channel 7 incessantly refers to “the summer of tennis”. As preparation, many players come here early and compete in Perth, Sydney and Brisbane before coming to Melbourne for the Australian Open. Reschedule the Open, and you have to reschedule all of the others too. Players are already complaining that the yearly event calendar is too full, so it’s not an easy proposition.

  • With everyone else knocked out of contention, nobody was put at an unfair disadvantage.

    Except maybe the player who’s game is strongest in outdoor conditions, especially when his opponent is known for loving indoor matches.

    That’s basically what this was. It was a pre-determined decision made to give Federer an advantage. Cilic is younger and faster, his biggest weapon is a fast serve and smashing forehand winners. The closed roof slowed the game down and made the conditions easier for an aging Federer. This was not coincidental. Federer knew in advance which is why he spent the day training indoors. Cilic trained in normal outdoor conditions and that’s why he was so poor in the opening set. He went for winners and they were always just a milimetre long because he wasn’t used to the change wind force, so he had to change his racquet tension 3 times before getting into the groove.

    Props to Fed for the win but this was a disgradeful move by the AO to push their preferred player to victory. Given how close it ended up being it’s more than likely that Cilic would’ve come out on top if the roof was left open like it should be in an outdoor event. Just because every other player is knocked out you can’t go changing the conditions.

  • This doesn’t make sense to me. It doesn’t disadvantage you if a totally different game is played under different conditions. It only disadvantages you if your opponent is under different conditions, which obviously isn’t the case here. Now, some could argue that if one player is better suited to playing in hot weather than their opponent they’d have an advantage, but that’s going to bias one player regardless. By their logic all games should be played at the same temperature, and you’re advantaged if you’re playing in the evening instead of during the day.

    • The point is that not all AO courts have retractable roofs. If two players play on different courts at the same time – one on an open court and one on a roofed court – and then have to face each other for their next match, the open court player will have a tougher time recuperating before they play.

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!