Olympics: Djokovic, Medvedev urge schedule rethink as tennis stars toil in Tokyo heat

Daniil Medvedev celebrates a point against Alexander Bublik during their Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games men's singles first round tennis match on July 24, 2021.
Daniil Medvedev celebrates a point against Alexander Bublik during their Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games men's singles first round tennis match on July 24, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev called on organisers to delay the start times of Olympic tennis matches as players laboured in the sweltering Tokyo summer heat on the opening day of the tournament on Saturday (July 24).

World number one Djokovic encountered little resistance from Bolivia’s Hugo Dellien in a 6-2, 6-2 first round win, but like many others found the playing conditions particularly demanding.

Medvedev, a 6-4, 7-6 (10/8) winner over Kazakhstan’s Alexander Bublik, suggested putting back matches until the evening, having started his opening round shortly after midday in blazing sunshine.

“I agree with him 100 percent,” said Djokovic, who revealed he had asked the ITF about the issue as well.

“To be honest I don’t understand why they don’t start matches at say 3pm. I’ve heard that for tennis there’s some kind of curfew and they have to finish by midnight.

“If that’s the case, I just finished the last match (on centre court) and it’s not even 5pm. We still have like seven hours to play, they have the lights on all the courts.

“They (could) make life much easier for all of us thanks to this. I just don’t understand why they don’t move it. I doubt they will change the decision but we’re hoping that they will.”

Medvedev admitted the conditions were “some of the worst” he had ever experienced.

The Russian narrowly avoided going three sets after saving a set point in the second set tie-break before sealing victory over the dangerous Bublik.

"I think, like they do in Mexico, the matches should maybe start at like 6pm because the heat actually gets much lighter," said Medvedev, whose match began just after midday in Japan with temperatures hovering around 32 deg C.

"We're here and we know the matches will be early and you couldn't practise at this time. I don't think they're going to change it in the middle of the tournament, but that's what can be done and the fact we have only one minute between changeovers is a joke.

"I think if you ask 200 tennis players here, I think 195 will say one minute is a joke and it should be 1:30 like it is in Asian tournaments."

Medvedev, a two-time Grand Slam finalist who will meet 160th-ranked Sumit Nagal of India in the second round, is fairly well acclimatised to the heat, spending his summers on the French Riviera after relocating from Russia.

"Where I live in summer in Cannes can be really hot, I'm not going to lie, but you have to play. That's the Olympics, you go for the medal. You're not here to cry about heat, it was really tough for both of us," said Medvedev.

The Russian has fond memories of Tokyo having won the Japan Open as a qualifier in 2018, when he beat home favourite Kei Nishikori in the final.

But Medvedev made it clear that Djokovic, who is chasing a calendar Golden Slam, is very much to man to beat at this year's Olympics.

"My first goal is to try and win every match here," said Medvedev.

"When I come to the Olympics all I want is a gold medal, but we all know who is the favourite and it's not me. I'm maybe kind of close but not the favourite, so I just try to do my best."

Djokovic is bidding to become the first man to win a Golden Grand Slam, after victories at the Australian Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon in 2021.

The Serb, a 2008 Olympic bronze medallist in Beijing, will take on Germany's Jan-Lennard Struff in the round of 32.

Poland’s Iga Swiatek, the 2020 French Open champion, suffered with the heat and the glare of the sun as she opened the day’s programme on the main court.

“Not only the temperature was hard, but also the sun because on one side it was pretty hard to serve,” Swiatek said after a 6-2, 6-2 win over Mona Barthel.

“But we had to adjust quickly and change our toss, so that was hard, but you know I would say the players who can adjust quicker are going to be the best ones here.”

Sixth seed Swiatek, in the same quarter of the draw as Japanese star Naomi Osaka, will play Spain's Paula Badosa or Kristina Mladenovic for a place in the last 16.

"It was very hot as everybody is saying," said Swiatek, whose father Tomasz competed in rowing at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.

"Even though I've practised here for a few days already, a match is totally different because the stress comes in and the conditions are different, you feel everything twice as much."