PICTURES

Australian Open's searing heat fries players, fans and ST Sports' Rohit Brijnath

Spectators cool off in front of a misting fan at the Australian Open 2014 tennis tournament in Melbourne on Thursday, Jan 16, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Spectators cool off in front of a misting fan at the Australian Open 2014 tennis tournament in Melbourne on Thursday, Jan 16, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Spectators cool off in front of a misting fan at the Australian Open 2014 tennis tournament in Melbourne, Jan 15, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Spectators cool off in front of a misting fan at the Australian Open 2014 tennis tournament in Melbourne, Jan 15, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Spectators cool off in front of a misting fan at the Australian Open 2014 tennis tournament in Melbourne, Jan 15, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Spectators cool off in front of a misting fan at the Australian Open 2014 tennis tournament in Melbourne, Jan 15, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A ball boy cools off with fans and mist put out for spectators as a heat wave continues to sizzle on day three of the 2014 Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on Jan 15, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A ball boy cools off with fans and mist put out for spectators as a heat wave continues to sizzle on day three of the 2014 Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on Jan 15, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Jerzy Janowicz of Poland poses beside a water fan on The Grand Slam Oval on day four of the 2014 Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on Thursday, Jan 16, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Jerzy Janowicz of Poland poses beside a water fan on The Grand Slam Oval on day four of the 2014 Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on Thursday, Jan 16, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Kenny De Schepper of France (right) tries to cool off from the early heat during a break against Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic during their men's singles second round match on day three of the 2014 Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne
Kenny De Schepper of France (right) tries to cool off from the early heat during a break against Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic during their men's singles second round match on day three of the 2014 Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on Thursday, Jan 16, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Kei Nishikori of Japan holds an ice pack around his neck during his men's singles match against Dusan Lajovic of Serbia at the Australian Open 2014 tennis tournament in Melbourne on Thursday, Jan 16, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Kei Nishikori of Japan holds an ice pack around his neck during his men's singles match against Dusan Lajovic of Serbia at the Australian Open 2014 tennis tournament in Melbourne on Thursday, Jan 16, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Kei Nishikori of Japan holds an ice pack around his neck during his men's singles match against Dusan Lajovic of Serbia at the Australian Open 2014 tennis tournament in Melbourne on Thursday, Jan 16, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Kei Nishikori of Japan holds an ice pack around his neck during his men's singles match against Dusan Lajovic of Serbia at the Australian Open 2014 tennis tournament in Melbourne on Thursday, Jan 16, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Alize Cornet of France applies ice packs between games against Camila Giorgi of Italy during their women's singles second round match on day four of the 2014 Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on Thursday, Jan 16, 2014. -- PHOTO
Alize Cornet of France applies ice packs between games against Camila Giorgi of Italy during their women's singles second round match on day four of the 2014 Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on Thursday, Jan 16, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Russia's Maria Sharapova cools off by pouring water over her head during her women's singles match against Karin Knapp of Italy at the Australian Open 2014 tennis tournament in Melbourne on Thursday, Jan 16, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Russia's Maria Sharapova cools off by pouring water over her head during her women's singles match against Karin Knapp of Italy at the Australian Open 2014 tennis tournament in Melbourne on Thursday, Jan 16, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Maria Sharapova of Russia holds ice on her head during her women's singles match against Karin Knapp of Italy at the Australian Open 2014 tennis tournament in Melbourne on Thursday, Jan 16, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Maria Sharapova of Russia holds ice on her head during her women's singles match against Karin Knapp of Italy at the Australian Open 2014 tennis tournament in Melbourne on Thursday, Jan 16, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

The heat feels like an invisible wall, it clogs the throat, it invades the lungs, it messes with the mind. And that's just me walking from the taxi drop-off point to the Australian Open stadium on Thursday. Everyone I see is wearing shorts, caps, holding towels, rubbing sun-block. And that's just the fans. On court, in this weather, men and women are playing 20-shot rallies? Must be a mirage.

At least players get paid to play, these hardy spectators paid to get in. They might have wanted a tan, instead they're getting sauteed. But not all. A colleague, who is is here purely as a fan, stayed in the air-conditioned confines of her hotel on Wednesday and pithily noted: "There was no one worth getting fried for". Ouch.

This Open for the past few days has become a test of loyalty. If athletes speak fondly of a "love of the game", then what of the thousands of spectators whose devotion lay in their presence at every court. As reward, Maria Sharapova inadvertently provided them with a three-hour 28-minute sweat-fest, which is how long it took her to tame Karin Knapp 6-3, 4-6, 10-8.

If watching was tedious at times, not to mention sticky, then not watching had to be painful. On Thursday, with everyone saying "44 degrees" with an exhausted awe, the "extreme heat policy" was implemented and matches were halted on outside courts. Now there was nothing to do but drink. Water seemed wiser, beer presumably tasted better.

For those who came early, at least there was Rafa, out there on court 18 at 10am, providing his own heat with a series of practice forehands that made the sound of a circus ringmaster's whip. Practice has an intimacy to it for fans stood 15-20 feet from him; practice is also an education for television disguises speed and only from close up is the acceleration of racket and rapid flight of ball readily evident.

Nadal's shirt clung to him like a second skin, yet he is always a force of concentration. He is not a thrower of rackets, yet one left his hand during a serve and clattered onto the court. Only sweat not temper was to blame. "Marry Me Rafa" cried a poster court-side, but he was faithful only to his craft. But later, after an hour on the court, his support team having left, he trotted across to sign autographs. Always a gent this fellow.

As the courts went silent for a while, I bumped into the Indian doubles player Mahesh Bhupathi, who speaks in clipped, dry phrases. "Dying" was his description of himself during his Wednesday match. "Survival of the fittest" was his grim verdict on the heat. He wasn't complaining and as he turned away, he flatly noted: "But we're here to win".