Grand Slam tournaments are getting hotter. US Open players and fans are feeling that this week

Sep 3, 2023, 8:00 PM | Updated: Sep 6, 2023, 1:38 pm

FILE - Andy Murray, of Britain, wipes sweat from his brow during a break in play against Corentin, ...

FILE - Andy Murray, of Britain, wipes sweat from his brow during a break in play against Corentin, Moutet, of France, during the first round of the U.S. Open tennis championships, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2023, in New York. An Associated Press analysis shows the average high temperatures during the U.S. Open and the three other Grand Slam tennis tournaments steadily have grown hotter and more dangerous in recent decades. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Andy Murray prepared for the steamy conditions often found at the U.S. Open by simulating the “brutal heat and humidity” in New York this time of year with the help of, well, an actual steam room at his home.

The 36-year-old British tennis star set the humidity in there at 70% and spent hours riding a stationary bike nearby with the thermostat cranked up to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 Celsius), making the air feel as muggy as it does every summer around Flushing Meadows, where the year’s last Grand Slam tournament will conclude Sunday. “Just to try and help with the heat adaptation,” explained Murray, who claimed the title in New York in 2012 but lost in mild conditions in the second round this time.

If the start of competition at the 2023 U.S. Open offered a bit of a reprieve for athletes, ball crews and spectators alike, thanks to highs mostly in the 70s F (20s C), that has decidedly changed. The temperature hit 90 F (32 C) on Sunday and again Tuesday, leaving players seeking relief from ice stuffed in plastic bags or cold air blown through tubes on the sideline. Tournament officials altered the rules and partially shut the Arthur Ashe Stadium roof to offer extra shade. The high was expected to reach 95 F (35 C) on Wednesday.

That’s not a surprise: An Associated Press analysis shows the average high temperatures felt during the U.S. Open and the three other major tennis tournaments steadily have gotten higher and more dangerous in recent decades, reflecting the climate change that created record heat waves around the globe this summer. For athletes, it can keep them from playing their best and, worse, increases the likelihood of heat-related illness.

“It was super hot tonight. Really muggy. Super humid,” Frances Tiafoe said after losing to fellow American Ben Shelton in the quarterfinals Tuesday night, when the humidity climbed to 70%. “Was sweating a lot.”

The AP tracked the thermal comfort index, which measures air temperature in degrees while also taking into account humidity, radiation, wind and other factors that affect how the body responds. It looked at each Grand Slam event dating to 1988, the first year all four had 128-player fields for women and men. Collectively, the maximum temperatures at those tournaments has risen by nearly 5 degrees F (nearly 3 C).

“People hear that and they don’t think it’s very much. It doesn’t necessarily register as alarming. Sometimes that 3- or 4-degree change can cause a doubling or even tripling of the number of hot days we experience,” said Daniel Bader, a climate scientist at Columbia University. “New York City’s temperatures have been rising, and that trend is projected to continue into the future.”

Other AP findings:

— From 1988 to 1992, daily highs in the thermal comfort index passed the threshold for strong heat stress, which is 90 F (32 C), on 7% of days with Grand Slam matches. From 2018 to 2022 that figure was 16%.

— The U.S. Open’s overall rise of nearly 3 F (1.5 C) since 1988 means it isn’t even the Grand Slam site where the heat is increasing most rapidly. That’s the Australian Open, where the average high temperatures jumped by more than 6 F (about 3.5 C).

Still, the U.S. Open often was the hottest of the four majors in any given year.

Players can tell.

“I remember the year I won, the last four days it was super hot and super humid,” said 2016 U.S. Open champion Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland. “It’s one of the toughest tournaments, fitness-wise. … Your body really loses a lot of energy.”

The U.S. Open’s spot late in the tennis season creates an accumulation of wear-and-tear and general fatigue, but the sweltering conditions at Flushing Meadows likely deserve some blame for a high number of in-match retirements there.

Since 1988, there have been 17 occasions in which at least 10 players at one Slam stopped during matches, more than half of them at the U.S. Open. The three highest totals came in New York: 16 in 2015, 15 in 2011, and 14 in 2018, when a half-dozen men stopped on Day 2 because of heat issues.

“We’re seeing a lot more heat-related illnesses across all sports,” said Elan Goldwaser, a sports medicine physician at Columbia University Medical Center who works with athletes on the U.S. ski team and at Fordham University.

The blue hard courts at the U.S. Open absorb heat more than the grass at Wimbledon or the clay at the French Open, making it feel as much as 15 degrees F (about 8 C) hotter than the air temperature, according to the U.S. Tennis Association. Athletes “are essentially playing on a hot plate,” Goldwaser said.

“Their ability to hit the ball as hard starts to go down. Their reaction time starts to go down,” said Jon Femling, the clinical vice chair of emergency medicine at the University of New Mexico. “Getting heated up, your body’s first response is to try and cool down, and the way it does that is by pumping blood to all of your skin. … Your heart just has to immediately start working harder.”

The fans in the stands need to be careful, too, especially if alcohol is involved.

On one cooler-than-usual yet sunny day during qualifying rounds ahead of the Aug. 28 to Sept. 10 main draw in New York, spectators grabbed free sunscreen samples and cooled off near misting fans.

“I have empathy, sympathy … for tennis players,” said Ola Yinka, a 45-year-old filmmaker from Chicago. “I used to play tennis as a kid, so I remember I would have fun with my dad. But at the same time, after like 10 minutes, I was like, ‘I don’t even want to play.’”

U.S. Open players get 75 seconds to rest between games and two minutes between sets. That’s time enough to hydrate or try to cool off with an ice-filled towel. But it’s not enough time to lower the body’s core temperature.

So physiotherapists watch for dizziness, cramping and other signs of heat illness.

“We might suggest that they’re not safe to play,” said Reshma Rathod, a WTA physiotherapist. “They may not want to stop.”

U.S. Open tournament referee Jake Garner said chair umpires serve as “the first line of defense” if someone is in real danger, but “in general, we leave (it up to) the players.”

While some athletes, like Murray, find unusual ways to train, others figure the acclimatization that comes from dealing with heat and humidity at tournament after tournament, week after week, year after year, or from living in places like Florida — a favorite base for many — will help.

“For a recreational player who may be watching on TV, to think about playing a tennis match when it’s 92 degrees out and 95% humidity — they might think that’s just unfathomable,” said Todd Ellenbecker, the ATP vice president for medical services. “But our players … play in that kind of heat throughout the entire year.”


Wildeman reported from Hartford, Connecticut.


AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis

AP climate and environment coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment


Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

United States News

Giant panda Xiao Qi Ji eats bamboo in his enclosure at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, ...

Associated Press

Panda Diplomacy: The departure of DC’s beloved pandas may signal a wider Chinese pullback

WASHINGTON (AP) — Wearing a “I Love Pandas” t-shirt and clutching a panda-covered diary, Kelsey Lambert bubbled with excitement as she glimpsed the real thing. She and her mother, Alison, had made a special trip from San Antonio, Texas, just to watch the National Zoo’s furry rock stars casually munching bamboo and rolling around on […]

46 minutes ago

FILE - Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by F...

Associated Press

DeSantis said he would support a 15-week abortion ban, after avoiding a direct answer for months

When Ron DeSantis seemed to say during last week’s Republican presidential debate that he would support a federal ban on abortion at 15 weeks of pregnancy, some anti-abortion activists called it the news they had been waiting months to hear. The president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, a leading anti-abortion advocacy group, issued a […]

1 hour ago

FILE - This booking photo provided by the Florida Department of Corrections shows Michael Duane Zac...

Associated Press

Florida man who murdered women he met in bars set to die by lethal injection

STARKE, Fla. (AP) — A man is scheduled to die by lethal injection over 25 years after he killed women het met in north Florida bars during a dayslong spate of crimes. Michael Zack III is set to die at 6 p.m. Tuesday for the murder of Ravonne Smith, a bar employee he befriended and […]

1 hour ago

FILE - President Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden leaves after a court appearance, July 26, 2023, in Wi...

Associated Press

Hunter Biden returns to court in Delaware and is expected to plead not guilty to gun charges

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Hunter Biden is due back in a Delaware courtroom Tuesday, where he’s expected to plead not guilty to federal firearms charges that emerged after his earlier deal collapsed. The president’s son is facing charges that he lied about his drug use in October 2018 on a form to buy a gun […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

US Rep. Henry Cuellar carjacked by three armed attackers about a mile from Capitol

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, was carjacked Monday night by three armed attackers, his office said. Cuellar’s chief of staff Jacob Hochberg released a statement saying: “As Congressman Cuellar was parking his car this evening, 3 armed assailants approached the Congressman and stole his vehicle. Luckily, he was not harmed and is […]

2 hours ago

FILE - Insurrections loyal to President Donald Trump rally at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan...

Associated Press

Prosecutors reveal a reason for Capitol rioter’s secretive sentencing: His government cooperation

Prosecutors want to keep certain details of Samuel Lazar's cooperation under wraps, but they have acknowledged for the first time that he supplied the government with information as part of a plea agreement.

3 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Home moving relocation in Arizona 2023...

BMS Moving

Tips for making your move in Arizona easier

If you're moving to a new home in Arizona, use this to-do list to alleviate some stress and ensure a smoother transition to your new home.


Ignite Digital

How to unlock the power of digital marketing for Phoenix businesses

All businesses around the Valley hopes to maximize their ROI with current customers and secure a greater market share in the digital sphere.



When most diets fail, re:vitalize makes a difference that shows

Staying healthy and losing weight are things many people in Arizona are conscious of, especially during the summer.

Grand Slam tournaments are getting hotter. US Open players and fans are feeling that this week