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Fans bake and players ache as Australian Open furnace stokes flames of unrest

Andy Murray's dire prediction that someone could have a heart attack in the heat didn't fall on deaf ears at one of Melbourne Park's newest spectator areas on Wednesday. They reached virtually no ears at all.

Mid-afternoon outside Hisense Arena, 10 huge umbrellas, 30 outdoor tables and seating for several hundred in front of a big screen played host to … a lone Australian Open worker on his break. At the information desk, another employee reported: ''It's been pretty quiet … everyone's inside watching on screens.''

Among those seeking shelter were David Wallace and wife Julie, squeezing a day at the tennis into their trip interstate for a wedding. They had managed a few hours watching the likes of Murray and Rafael Nadal on the practice courts, scored some autographs on an oversized tennis ball, but could only take so much.

Being 30 weeks pregnant contributed to Julie's reflection that perhaps a day at the Australian Open wasn't such a good idea after all.

''It's stifling, it takes the breath out of you,'' David said. ''We've fruit-picked in Katherine - this feels worse.''

''You can't escape it,'' Julie added. ''It makes you wonder how they're playing in it - they're running around, and we can't even walk around.''


Martina Navratilova has made clear her belief that the players shouldn't be running around at all, calling tournament doctor Tim Wood ''completely clueless'' for endorsing the decision not to suspend play during the oppressive conditions.

On Wednesday, the union that represents sporting professionals added its voice to the smashing being endured by Open organisers.

''It's time we moved away from the gladiatorial colosseum view of sports people battling for their lives in the name of entertainment,'' said Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance spokesman Malcolm Tulloch, echoing Murray's view that lives are being endangered.

Tournament organisers stood firm, referee Wayne McKewen reiterating his view that, while conditions were hot and uncomfortable, the relatively low level of humidity ensured they never deteriorated to the point where it was necessary to invoke the ''extreme heat policy'', closing the roof on the two main stadiums and suspending play on outside courts.

Attendances continued to wilt; the 32,911 who braved the conditions for the day session was down almost 15,000 on the corresponding figure in last year's Open for the second day running. Pre-sales of ground passes were up 8 per cent this year, but organisers conceded ''walk-ups'' had been hit hard by the weather.

''I have been heartened by the commitment shown by Australian tennis fans this week who have certainly shown their love of the Australian Open amid the heat,'' said Tennis Australia's chief operating officer, David Roberts.

''But I also know that given the weather during the last two days and the forecast for tomorrow and Friday we will fall well short of the overall record attendance.''

The 2014 tournament will definitely match one record, albeit not exclusively due to the heat. Eight men and one woman failed to complete their opening-round matches, equalling the tally for most retirements in a single round at any major in the 45-year professional era.