Midway through the second set of his first Grand Slam quarterfinal, John Millman realised he was drowning in a sea of himself — or at least raining on his own parade.
At 2-2 in the second set at the US Open on Wednesday night, Millman came to the net and asked his opponent, Novak Djokovic, if he could stop the match to leave the court and change his clothes.
Not only was he soaked from head to toe, Millman was dripping so much sweat onto the court that he was making it dangerously slippery. His shorts had become so clingy that it was tough for him to pull the tennis balls out of his pockets.
Djokovic was only too happy to oblige, showing humanity in the humidity.
“I’m soaked, too — go ahead.” Djokovic told Millman. “I’m fine to have a little rest.”
With the court to himself, Djokovic sat shirtless in his chair, trying to dry off himself, as he waited for Millman to return.
The soupy scene was the apex — or was it the nadir? — of a US Open that has been soaked from the inside out, even though its first significant rain was expected Thursday night.
The event has been hot and humid since it began on August 27. Seven of 11 days, including Thursday, were played under special rules for extreme heat. There were a spate of men abandoning best-of-five matches with heat-related illnesses. The junior tournament, for players 18 and under, has been suspended twice, on Tuesday and Thursday, because the wet bulb globe temperature exceeded 32.2 degrees Celsius.
Dr. Melissa Leber, a tournament doctor, said that roughly half of the juniors and professionals have complained of heat distress over the past several days. “We have never been so popular,” she said of the tournament’s medical staff.
John Isner said he went through 11 shirts in his three-and-a-half-hour quarterfinal loss to Juan Martín del Potro on Tuesday. He also kept a rotation of many upside-down hats next to his chair, switching into whichever one was driest on changeovers, and asked for sawdust to improve his grip on his racket. He estimated he lost between eight and 10 pounds during the match.
The heat wave broke briefly last weekend — and cooler days are ahead this weekend — but conditions inside Arthur Ashe Stadium during the second week of the tournament have been especially draining.
That was never clearer than on Monday night, when second-seeded Roger Federer, whose rivals and fans joke about never having seen him sweat, exited the tournament in a soppy puddle of surrender. Federer complained that he “couldn’t get air” and said he was sweating so much that the spare tennis balls in his pockets were becoming dampened, which made the slow conditions even slower. “At some point, I was just happy that the match was over, I guess,” Federer admitted after falling to Millman in the fourth round.
On Tuesday night, in his nearly-five-hour, five-set loss against Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem had also fought a losing battle against sweat.
“I couldn’t run any more in the fourth set because the shoes were completely wet,” said Thiem, who asked the umpire to have someone fetch spare shoes from his locker during the match. “Also changing the clothes doesn’t really make sense because after three, four points anyway you’re completely wet again.”
The problem, Dr. Leber said, is not the air temperature, which has reached the mid-90s, but the high humidity. “At the Australian Open, it can be 100 degrees out, but there is less humidity,” she added. “When it’s humid, your sweat can’t evaporate efficiently because it needs to be released into a drier environment. You can’t evaporate sweat into moisture.”
The humidity has seemed to grow worse at night, but day matches came with their own tricky landscape. With the roof structure casting a cooling shadow over the south end of Ashe Stadium, there was such a difference between the ends of the court during Sloane Stephens and Anastasija Sevastova’s quarterfinal match on Tuesday afternoon, that the player on the sunnier side of the court won only 3 of 17 games.
Stephens, the No. 3 seed and defending champion, cursed the heat before losing to Sevastova.
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