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Heatwave fears ahead of opening grand slam of season in Melbourne

By Paul Gittings, CNN
updated 3:46 PM EST, Sun January 12, 2014
Novak Djokovic contemplates his fate ahead of his retirement with heat exhaustion in a quarterfinal match against Andy Roddick at the Australian Open in 2009. Novak Djokovic contemplates his fate ahead of his retirement with heat exhaustion in a quarterfinal match against Andy Roddick at the Australian Open in 2009.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • High temperatures expected for Australian Open tennis championships
  • Temperatures set to reach 42 degrees Celsius in Melbourne
  • Tournament has an 'Extreme Heat' policy
  • Men's champion Novak Djokovic fell victim to conditions in 2009

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(CNN) -- Maria Sharapova once labeled the conditions as "inhuman" and three-time defending men's champion Novak Djokovic suffered a dramatic meltdown in a quarterfinal match in 2009 so it's with a degree of trepidation that the world's elite go into the Australian Open with a heatwave forecast for Melbourne.

Temperatures are predicted to reach a blistering 42 degrees Celsius Tuesday (107 Fahrenheit) and remain at that level until the weekend.

While the opening grand slam of the season has an Extreme Heat Policy -- in place since 1998 -- it is rarely invoked and players simply have to make do.

Djokovic, who had to retire with heat exhaustion against Andy Roddick when defending his 2008 crown, has become renowned for his supreme fitness levels and claims to be ready for any challenge.

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"I am expecting to play in big heat. You always have to expect it because you can't really predict Melbourne's weather, it's changing a lot," Djokovic told gathered reporters on the eve of his title defense.

Read: Djokovic: All you need is love

"I remember the 2008, 2009 and 2010 tournaments, there were several days I played in extreme heat. So I know how tough it is.

"But it's the same for myself and my opponent so you have to adjust to it," he said.

Given a favorable draw, avoiding the likes of world number one Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Roger Federer until at least the final, Djokovic is unlikely to be troubled by the weather or his first round opponent Lukas Lacko of Slovakia on Monday.

After that the level of the opposition and the heat is expected to rise with Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka looming large as his main threat.

Wawrinka extended Djokovic in a five-set fourth round clash last year which many considered the outstanding match of 2013.

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This time around they cannot meet until the semifinals by which time forecasters are predicting a return to more manageable conditions.

Sharapova, playing her first grand slam since Wimbledon last year, remains wary of conditions after being reminded of her 2007 three-setter against France's Camille Pin, after which she made her outburst.

"I don't think anyone can prepare themselves for that type of heat," she told reporters.

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When it comes to prize money, the Australian Open leads the way, with the 2012 tournament the richest in grand slam history. The prize fund is a whopping $23.9 million, with the winners of each singles event collecting a cool $2.2 million while the losing finalists can console themselves with a $1 million check. When it comes to prize money, the Australian Open leads the way, with the 2012 tournament the richest in grand slam history. The prize fund is a whopping $23.9 million, with the winners of each singles event collecting a cool $2.2 million while the losing finalists can console themselves with a $1 million check.
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"When you try to put in that effort, that maximum effort to give as an athlete, it's pretty difficult for a longer period of time."

Murray, himself back in action after a layoff for surgery, is also not relishing extreme temperatures despite preparing for the championships in Florida.

"The difference between 32 degrees or whatever in Florida and 40, it's a huge difference.

"It feels very different on the court. The court gets so hot, the air is extremely hot as well," said the Scot.

Read: Serena cements status as favorite

If he can get the better of conditions, it is likely that both Roger Federer then Nadal would stand in his path if he wants to repeat last year's men's final showdown with Djokovic.

Defending champion Victoria Azarenka and top seed Serena Williams are strongly favored to meet in the women's final and both claim to be unperturbed about the rising temperature gauge.

"I've been here playing for, what, last eight years. It's not a new thing to play in the heat. I actually enjoy that," said Azarenka.

"I mean, not all the time probably, but it's nice to get some sun."

Williams tweeted earlier this week to complain about then cold conditions in the Victorian State capital, but claims to be ready for whatever awaits.

Read: Sharapova 'goosebumps' after comeback win

"I've been training my whole life in the heat. I think I'm pretty used to it. But obviously the heat in Melbourne is just completely different than any other heat," said the American.

"But it's okay. I've just got to be ready to play under any circumstances."

For the record, the hottest Australian Open was in 2009 when the average daily temperature was 34.7 Celsius, with Djokovic the most high-profile victim.

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