NEW YORK – It was far from the hottest day in recent U.S. Open history. But it was by far the hottest day of the tournament so far. And the heat and humidity Wednesday took its toll on several players as the first round of men's singles was finally completed.
The worst sight, by far, was that of American Steve Johnson, who went into a full body cramp in the fourth set of his match against Tatsuma Ito of Japan, a match he led two sets to one and a break of serve but had to retire from because one by one, body parts began to seize up.
First, Johnson landed awkwardly on his left ankle. The next point, his right calf went. Then both his quads. And then his right hand - Johnson couldn't even hold the racket, much less squeeze it, before the hand would start cramping again. The trainer tried to treat him on a changeover after his opponent received a penalty point, then a game as the rules dictate when play is delayed. But then his arm started cramping.
It was over. They brought a wheelchair out for him, but Johnson refused it. "That's the first time I've ever retired in a match – I'm not going to leave in a wheelchair," Johnson said later in his press conference. He was still in pain, and still just on the edge of cramping again with any sudden movement.
He wasn't alone.
Former top-10 player Marcos Baghdatis had to retire down 6-3 3-1 to No. 14 seed Marin Cilic of Croatia.
No. 19 seed Feliciano Lopez, who had been in serious trouble against Ivan Dodig of Croatia, advanced when Dodig, who had been up two sets to one and 4-2 in the fourth set, ended up cramping and injured at 1-1 in the fifth set of their match on the Grandstand court.
Canadian Frank Dancevic, who played a 3 1/2-hour match against Joao Sousa of Portugal and lost it 7-6 in the fifth set, didn't cramp. But his feet were so sore, and burned, after the effort that he needed nearly 10 minutes to compose himself on court after it was over. Dancevic removed his shoes and socks, and walked all the way back to the players' locker room in his bare feet.
Walked is a charitable word. More like limped, or trudged.
These were hardly the first instances of cramping so far at this U.S. Open. In his opening match Monday, 2012 champion Andy Murray was faced with the same issues early in the third set of his first-round match against Robin Haase of the Netherlands, on a day that wasn't nearly as humid as Wednesday.
The cramps started in his left shoulder, then spread to the forearm, and his quad. Murray, however, managed to recover well enough to pull out a four-set victory.
"When it starts to kind of go everywhere, you don't know exactly where it's going to creep up next," Murray said afterwards. "When you stretch one muscle, something else then cramps, too."
The forecast for Thursday? Sunny and a high of 83 degrees. But the humidity is forecast to be at about 50 per cent, which should give the players some relief.