Djokovic wilts as mercury soars in Melbourne

Australia’s brutal January weather claimed another victim on Tuesday when defending champion Novak Djokovic quit midway through his Australian Open quarterfinal against Andy Roddick.

The wilting Serb became increasingly distressed as temperatures on court soared above 40 degrees Celsius before becoming the fourth player in 24 hours to abandon his match.

“Cramping and soreness in the whole body,” the world number three said when asked why he had quit while trailing 6-7 6-4 6-2 2-1.

“Really unfortunate way to end up my Australian Open 2009 here in this way. Really tried my best, but sometimes you can’t fight against your own body.”

Roddick kept his focus.

“I’m probably the least favoured of anybody to make it to the semis here,” he said. “I’m just going to keep going and keep my head down and keep working.
I’m not going to get too excited.”

Earlier, Russian seventh seed Vera Zvonareva eased into the women’s semifinals with victory over Marion Bartoli.

The Frenchwoman also visibly wilted during the 6-3 6-0 thrashing.

“I have to say it was definitely some tough conditions,” she told reporters.

“It was really hot. I don’t think it’s really fair to have one quarterfinal played at 1pm [local time], right in the middle of the heat, and one playing at 7.30pm. But I guess that’s the way it is.”

Hottest week
Djokovic’s withdrawal came 24 hours after almost half of Monday’s field had reached the quarterfinals when their opponents retired injured or ill.

Serena Williams, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Gilles Simon all eased into to the last eight of their draws without having to complete their matches.

Gael Monfils and Zheng Jie waved Simon and Kuznetsova through by pulling out with wrist injures, while women’s second seed Williams advanced when Victoria Azarenka staggered off centre court in tears, off-balance and barely able to hold her racket, a victim of a virus and the heat.

Melbourne is braced for its hottest week in 100 years as meteorologists predict five consecutive days above 40 for the first time since 1908.

Tournament officials can halt matches if their “heat stress index” reaches a predetermined level. The index is a combined measurement of temperature, heat radiation, wind, and humidity.

When the EHP has been operational in the past, the temperature has been above 38 degrees. Organisers said the temperature was 37,1 degrees Celsius when Djokovic quit.

On-court temperatures are generally up to 10 degrees hotter than the off-court figure and photographers courtside have been covering themselves with towels after being burnt through their clothes.

Australia’s Jelena Dokic plays third-seed Dinara Safina in the first match of the night session.

She will be followed on court by Roger Federer, who plays his quarterfinal against Argentine Juan Martin del Potro.—Reuters

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