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NEW YORK — It was a scorcher of a day at the US Open on Tuesday, which raised the subject of how players will be protected from heat illness while playing their hearts out on court.
At 1:30 in the afternoon, the temperature was 95 with 46 percent humidity, which makes it feel like it's 103 degrees at Flushing Meadows.
Throughout the day, players used changeover breaks to place huge towels wrapped with ice around their necks in an effort to cool down.
While the women's WTA Tour has an excessive heat policy in its rule book, the men's ATP Tour doesn't officially address oppressive heat situations.
Worried about the possibility of heat illness affecting players, the United States Tennis Association took matters into its own hands Tuesday and set a policy for the men at the US Open. The USTA's extreme heat policy allows for the men to take a a 10-minute break between the third and fourth sets.
Reigning Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic was one high-profile player to take advantage of the respite offering. He and Marton Fucsovics, playing on Arthur Ashe Stadium in the afternoon, headed inside to cool off for 10 minutes after the third set.
Djokovic, the No. 6 seed, looked out of sorts and on the road to defeat from the heat during the second set. On the last changeover of that set, he was attended to by medical personnel on the court. Djokovic, who lost the second set and was initially down a break in the third set, rebounded to recapture control of the match to defeat Fucsovics 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-0 in 2 hours, 59 minutes.
"We obviously struggled," Djokovic told the crowd. "By the end of the third set we started playing a bit better. Before that it was survival mode, at least from my side. I was actually praying the next moment I will feel better because I definitely wasn't feeling good.
"I want to thank the US Open for allowing us to have the 10-minute break because we both needed it. But we were not allowed to talk to any of our team in the locker room."
During the break, Djokovic said he and Fucsovics took ice baths side by side.
"We were naked next to each other in the ice baths after battling for three sets, and it was a magnificent feeling I must say," said Djokovic, laughing.
Also in the men's draw, Ricardas Berankis and Stefano Travaglia retired from heat-related symptoms during their matches Tuesday, according to the USTA.
Leonardo Mayer said he also retired from his match because of the heat. "I think we should no longer play five sets," the Argentinean said in Spanish, according to an ESPN report. "That's my opinion, I think that's the past. They won't stop until someone dies. It's incredible, matches become ugly."
This USTA policy has no particular Heat Stress Index criteria, but that could become a possibility as needed during the tournament.
"Having seen what we were seeing with the heat and humidity out there we thought it was the reasonable and the appropriate thing to do, to institute something to give the men the opportunity," said David Brewer, the US Open tournament director.
The ATP does have a broad policy that takes possible dangerous situations for players into consideration, but no specific rules regarding weather.
"When weather or other conditions threaten the immediate safety of the players, spectators, officials or any other persons on the tournament site, the Supervisor may suspend or postpone the match(es) until such time that in his opinion the threat to safety is no longer evident," the ATP said in a statement to USA TODAY in response to a question about its policy.
The women's WTA Heat Rule has been in place since 1992 and is used throughout the year at all WTA tournaments. The rule states that when the Heat Stress Index, which includes a number of factors such as air temperature, humidity and surface temperature, measures at or above 86.18 degrees, players can take a 10-minute break between the second and third sets.
On Tuesday, 10th-seeded Jelena Ostapenko and Andrea Petkovic, playing on Louis Armstrong Stadium, took a 10-minute break. Ostapenko, the 2017 French Open champion, won the 2-hour, 18-minute first-round match 6-4, 4-6, 7-5.
Petkovic said she would've preferred to stay on court, but when Ostapenko left she also went to a private room with air conditioning, ice towels, water and sports drinks.
"When you go out into air conditioning and you come back it feels doubly as hot," Petkovic said. "But I had to change because I was drenched, but I think I would've stayed on court."
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