- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2006

Andre Agassi has won five championships in 17 appearances at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic. But the aging star often associates the District with stifling heat.

“There is a distinct sweat you can only achieve here in D.C.,” said Agassi, a Las Vegas native.

Agassi played his final Legg Mason match Tuesday night — falling 6-4, 6-3 to Andrea Stoppini — but the remaining players had to battle record-breaking temperatures yesterday as the thermometer climbed to the 100 degree mark.

The heat index, which factors humidity and wind, reached 112 degrees, causing the National Weather Service to issue an excessive heat warning through Friday. The average high for yesterday is 88 degrees, according to the Farmer’s Almanac.

Brian van de Graaff, a meteorologist for WJLA-TV (Ch. 7), said a ridge of high pressure from the Tennessee Valley has led to the heat wave. Winds blowing in a clockwise direction funnel warm air from the south to the Washington region, he said.

Even with start times no earlier than 4 p.m., this week’s nights have offered no relief. The National Weather Service forecasted a low of 81 last night with minimal winds. A wave of low pressure is supposed to enter the region tonight, bringing cool air and thunderstorms tomorrow afternoon.

“I think pretty much everyone is struggling with the weather,” said Andy Murray, who advanced to the round of 16 yesterday with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Ramon Delgado. “I think it plays a big factor in all the matches. You have to try to finish the points a little bit quicker than normal. It is so hot out there that if you are defending all the points it’s tough to catch your breath because it is so humid.”

In addition to the sweltering temperatures, players also must deal with poor air quality.

“Because it is so warm and there is no breeze, the exhaust fumes and other pollution just sit above the region,” van de Graaff said. “So if the heat doesn’t get you, the pollution will. It will be difficult, especially athletes who have to breathe in a lot of that air. … It is like a dirty toxic soup of air.”

Whether it’s heat or pollution, players are feeling the effects of the grueling playing conditions.

Head USTA trainer Bill Norris said competitors have been plagued by everything from muscle cramps to hyperventilation this week. Although Norris helps players submerge themselves in ice baths or even administer intravenous fluids following a match, he said the best thing a player can do is prepare the night before.

He recommended eating water-heavy fruits and vegetables like melons and lettuce as well as drinking plenty of water and sports drinks.

Two players already have withdrawn from competition because of heat-related reasons.

Dehydration and heat exhaustion forced Roko Karanusic to retire in the first round. Paul Capdeville pulled out of his first-round match late in the third set because of a breathing problem.

“In this kind of heat, sometimes it is survival of the fittest,” said Brad Gilbert, a former top-five player in the 1990s who coaches Murray. “It is pretty oppressive out there.”

But some players thrive in these potentially dangerous conditions.

“You’ve got to prepare properly and have the necessary fluids on board,” said Tim Henman, who will face Jan-Michael Gambill today. “I’ve never really struggled in the heat. I’ve always enjoyed playing in it, and it makes the conditions a bit quicker, which obviously favors my game.”

On top of the heat and pollution, players must deal with the court surface. USTA officials estimate that hard courts can radiate heat up to 10 degrees hotter than the air temperature.

“What actually dictates how much heat a court absorbs is the asphalt below it,” said Tom Magner, the Northeastern U.S. regional manager for DecoTurf — the company that resurfaced the courts at William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center. “The DecoTurf color coating cannot be an issue because it is manufactured to withstand temperatures between 140 and 160 degrees. The layers underneath the coating are the issue.”

But no matter how early or how well a player prepares for the Washington heat, sometimes their efforts are futile in long matches like those played yesterday, which averaged more than an hour and a half.

Nobody knows that helpless feeling better than Agassi.

“One time I was playing in the heat in 1995 in the finals against [Stefan] Edberg, up two breaks 5-2 in the third set, and I was literally starting to get sick,” Agassi reminisced. “I was feeling like I was so close to getting over the line that I would hit the ball way in the air. Then I would drift back to the baseline and puke into the bushes and then re-enter the point. … I remember actually trying to do that.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide