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Tennis-China's Li to tweak training schedule as mercury rises

Reuters

By Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE, Jan 13 (Reuters) - China's Li Na will adjust her training schedule in a bid to beat the heat at the Australian Open this week after enjoying more favourable conditions on Monday in a one-sided rout of Croatian teenager Ana Konjuh in her opening match.

Asia's first grand slam singles winner, fourth-seeded Li cantered to a 6-2 6-0 thrashing of last year's junior champion in the second match at Hisense Arena as a mooted 35 degree Celsius day (95 Fahrenheit) failed to materialise.

"I think today was okay," the 31-year-old Li told reporters after wrapping up her match in just over an hour.

"I think it was very lucky we played today. Tomorrow is the worst. But for every player it's the same, so you have to get used to it," said Li who takes on 16-year-old Swiss Belinda Bencic next.

While the other half of the draw will sweat out their opening matches in a baking 41 degree Celsius day forecast for Tuesday, Li said she would likely be cooling her heels.

"I will go earlier," she said of training. "Yeah, I don't want to be killing myself on the court. I always change my schedule a little bit."

Severe heat is expected throughout the opening days before a cool change is forecast to arrive over the weekend, testing the players' fitness and putting the tournament's heat policy under the microscope.

Extreme heat is generally a fixture of the year's first grand slam but organisers have been reluctant to suspend matches.

A fierce run of high temperatures saw outdoor matches suspended in 2009 with defending champion Novak Djokovic retiring citing heat exhaustion.

By itself, heat is not enough for a suspension, with organisers using a wet bulb global temperature reading, which also factors in humidity, in making the decision.

"A lot of people get hot and look distressed and hot and bothered, as we all do," Tim Wood, the tournament's head doctor, told reporters.

"The actual risk to the health is relatively small compared to other sports.

"We have never had anybody die from dehydration on a tennis court. We have had players almost die from drinking too much. So the danger is overdrinking, not underdrinking and becoming dehydrated.

"Again, given the length of time tennis matches generally go for and the sweat rate of most normal, healthy athletes, they won't get to a state where they get too critically dehydrated."

When conditions approach a first threshold, players can expect to call on ice vests distributed to the courts. At a higher threshold, women players will be given 10-minute breaks, but only if the match is one-set all.

While the wet bulb index informs organisers' decision to suspend play, the call is effectively up to the discretion of the tournament referee Wayne McKewen.

"We don't want to have a set temperature, because (if we) know it's going to spike, I would much rather bring (the extreme heat policy) in earlier rather than later and wait for it to hit that point.

"If I know it's going to fluctuate -- and as we know, Melbourne temperatures can vary over a space of half an hour.

"If I know it's going to drop very shortly, then I like to have that flexibility to keep matches going." (Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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