MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australian Open runner-up Marin Cilic queried the decision to close the roof at Rod Laver Arena for the men’s final on Sunday and said it had contributed to his slow start in defeat to Roger Federer.
Having prepared for the match exposed to the elements on a scorching hot day, Croatian Cilic lost 6-2 6-7(5) 6-3 3-6 6-1 in the much cooler indoor conditions in the evening match.
Federer, who trained indoors earlier in the day, wrapped up the opening set in 24 minutes as a flustered Cilic struggled to find his range and fretted about his racket tension.
“Throughout the tournament I played all my matches outdoors, also preparing (for) a hot day, 38 degrees,” the sixth seed and former U.S. Open champion Cilic told reporters.
“Then (for) the first match for the final to play with the roof closed, it’s difficult.
“I have to say that decision, could it have been different?
“I guess so. I think that it was just little bit difficult to adjust, especially the beginning of the match.
“With the roof closed, it was way, way cooler than I expected. That was very, very difficult, especially for the final to be in that kind of a situation.”
The retractable roofs of the main showcourts at Melbourne Park are usually kept open unless the tournament’s extreme heat policy is invoked when the temperature exceeds 40 degrees Celsius (104 F) and a key humidity threshold has been surpassed.
Tournament organisers cited the ‘wet bulb globe temperature’, its humidity measure, as being above the threshold of 32.5 as their reason for the roof closure.
The temperature outside, however, was 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 F) when Cilic and Federer walked out on court.
The roof closure triggered a barrage of criticism from current and former players, with former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash saying it played right into 36-year-old Federer’s hands.
“It’s an outdoor tournament — it’s like Wimbledon. Why is the roof closed?” the Australian said during commentary for BBC radio.
“The way Roger plays, he swings so hard at the ball and takes it so early, any wind or variation of the ball moving will take it away from him. It’s why he’s one of the best players ever indoors.”
Other players expressed similar disdain.
“I can’t believe they’ve closed the roof,” British doubles player Jamie Murray, the brother of three-times grand slam champion Andy Murray, tweeted.
“Absolutely ridiculous that the roof is closed for the Australian Open. GS are outdoor events. Yes it’s hot but the court is under shade and an evening match,” tweeted British former U.S. Open finalist Greg Rusedski.
During the first week of the grand slam, players battled through two days of searing 40-degree heat fully exposed to the elements, as organisers declined to invoke the heat policy.
A number of players criticised the policy, saying it had placed their health at risk.
Federer, who claimed his sixth Australian Open title and 20th in grand slams, said he was “surprised” organisers had the heat rule in place for the night final.
“I never heard that before,” he said.
“Of course, I backed myself in, sort of, indoor conditions.
“I do think back that usually when I play indoors, it’s good for me. But I didn’t mind the heat, to be honest.”
Editing by Amlan Chakraborty and Pritha Sarkar