Australian Open organisers have taken steps to ban Russian and Belarusian flags at the tournament as an Australian wildcard caused a major upset and extreme heat shut down courts.
Wildcard Australian Kimberley Birrell ended tournament favourite Kaia Kanepi’s Australian Open ambitions in sweltering conditions before organisers stepped in to pause all afternoon matches on Melbourne Park’s outside courts.
Earlier on Day 2 of the tournament, Australian Open organisers moved quickly to address an outpouring of anger and banned Russian and Belarusian flags entirely from the 2023 tournament.
Tennis Australia said Tuesday that flags representing both countries were initially allowed, given they were not used “to cause disruption”.
“Our initial policy was that fans could bring them in but could not use them to cause disruption. Yesterday we had an incident where a flag was placed courtside,” the organisers said in a statement.
The decision was spurred by an incident that took place on Monday when spectators displayed a Russian flag at a match between a Ukrainian and Russian player.
Ukraine’s ambassador to Australia, Vasyl Myroshnychenko, joined tennis fans in calling for Tennis Australia to take action.
“I strongly condemn the public display of the Russian flag during the game of the Ukrainian tennis player Kateryna Baindl at the Australian Open today,” Ambassador Myroshnychenko wrote on Twitter.
“I call on Tennis Australia to immediately enforce its ‘neutral flag’ policy.”
Tweet from @AmbVasyl
The sporting world has been taking a strong stance since Russia first invaded Ukraine in February of 2022.
Russian sports stars have been competing around the world under no flag in many sports, including tennis.
Including those are Russian world No.8 Daniil Medvedev and Belarusian player Victoria Azarenka.
Russian and Belarusian players were also banned from Wimbledon in 2022, which resulted in the tournament being stripped of its ranking points.
Ambassador Myroshnychenko also retweeted a scathing message from another Twitter user, which called Tennis Australia’s decision to allow Russian and Belarusian to play in this year’s tournament “spineless” and “painful for Ukrainians”.
Aussie Kimberley Birrell has just provided one of the first upsets of this year’s tournament, knocking out Australian Open veteran Kaia Kanepi.
Estonian Kanepi was hoping to best her quarter final effort from 2022, with this year’s tournament being her fourteenth time playing at Melbourne Park.
But Birrell, who is a wildcard at this year’s tournament, put a premature end to Kinepi’s AO ambitions, closing out the game 3-6, 7-6(7/4), 6-1.
Kanepi grasped the first set with relative ease. But it was when the temperatures at Melbourne Park began to peak that Birrell found her groove.
Birrell, tearful and elated, shared her excitement in a post-match interview.
“Not many people get to wake up and live their dream,” she said.
“I knew [Kanepi is] a quality player and I know how deep she’s gone in slams.
“I’m so happy that I won today and I get to play again.”
Tweet from @TennisAustralia
Birrell will meet Czech player Linda Fruhvirtova for the first time in the second round.
“I’ve heard her name and i’ve seen her play a little bit,” Birrell said of her next opponent.
“Anyone who plays in a main draw of a grand slam is very good … I’m going to enjoy every second.”
Fruhvirtova is fresh off a win against wildcard Aussie Jess Fourlis, who she sent packing on Tuesday in a 0-6, 4-6 victory.
As for the other Aussies meant to take the court in today’s day session, most matches have been pushed back due to excessive heat.
Hot and bothered
Tennis fans have been melting in the blazing hot conditions on Day 2, which peaked at an estimated 37 degrees around 3pm.
Attendees can be found retreating in the shade at the Beach Club and under umbrellas scattered around the precinct.
The normally-packed outdoor viewing areas, however, have been left empty for most of the day.
The heat has also proven to be a problem on court.
Aryna Sabalenka, Garbine Muguruza, Dominic Thiem and Andrey Rublev all appeared to be struggling with the Aussie heat during the day session.
The roofs at Rod Laver Arena, John Cain Arena and Margaret Court Arena have now all closed amid the rising mercury.
The heat has also provided a scheduling headache for organisers.
Play went ahead on the three major arenas, which all have retractable roofs.
However, play was paused on KIA Arena, 1573 Arena and all show courts between 2pm and 5pm in observation of the heat rule, which comes into effect at 35 degrees.
This has pushed back the 2023 AO debuts of several players, including Aussies Thanasi Kokkinakis, Alex Popyrin and Max Purcell.
Prior to the pause in play, officials were seen struggling with the conditions.
According to tennis writer Tumaini Carayol, one ball kid was escorted off Court 16 during the match between American Taylor Townsend and French player Diane Parry.
Tweet from @tumcarayol
Fans have been flocking to designated cooling sites around the precinct to cool off.
Crowds of hot and bothered tennis fans have been surrounding the misting fans scattered around Melbourne Park.
Others have been slip, slop, slapping at the Bondi Sands setup, with Bondi Sands Sport the returning sunscreen sponsor of the Australian Open.
Located in the Grand Slam Oval area, fans will find a stretch of misting archways that they can walk through and cool off.
The forecast is set to take a dip in temperature later in the week, according to the BoM.
Wednesday will see a considerable drop in temperature, with a much lower maximum of 23 degrees at Melbourne Park.
The arena roofs will likely be closed on Wednesday also – except this time to fend off the drizzle.
According to the BoM forecast, Melbourne has a 90 per cent chance of rainfall on Wednesday, with 2 to 15 millimetres expected to hit.
Tweet from @BOM_au
Glimmer of hope
Following Nick Kyrgios’ shock withdrawal from the 2023 Australian Open, the player’s physio has given his heartbroken fans a promising update.
Kyrgios revealed that he would be unable to play in this year’s tournament thanks to a troublesome cyst persisting inside of his knee.
His physiotherapist, Will Maher, appeared alongside Kyrgios at his press conference, confirming that the player would be heading back to Canberra to undergo arthroscopic surgery on Monday.
But he reassured Today show viewers on Tuesday morning that Kyrgios has been through far worse before.
“He’s actually had worse injuries in the past and come back better than ever,” Mr Maher told hosts Karl Stefanovic and Sarah Abo.
“He’ll be back better than ever at Indian Wells in March.”
Mr Maher such an injury was “very common” for athletes at Kyrgios’ level to sustain.
He added that Kyrgios was already showing signs of improvement, even in the last 48 hours.
After the press conference on Monday afternoon, Kyrgios took to social media to share a gruesome behind-the-scenes picture.
“A little insight into what was in my knee 4 days prior,” he wrote on his Instagram story. “Drainage procedure.”
Kyrgios also made the headlines earlier in the day for his impromptu Melbourne CBD scooter adventure.
He was pictured riding an e-scooter with girlfriend Costeen Hatzi – but both were not wearing helmets.
Riding an e-scooter without a helmet in Victoria is a fineable offence, with Kyrgios and Hatzi now both facing potential $185 penalties.
Kyrgios’ physio hilariously weighed in on the controversy, saying the tennis star was only trying to relieve his ailing knee.
Novak injury rumblings
Rumours are swirling amongst reporters at media headquarters about Novak Djokovic’s form at this year’s tournament.
The Serbian star, who is set to make his long-awaited Australian Open return on Tuesday night, cancelled his Monday night practice session – making it his second cancellation in 48 hours.
But he later appeared on a different practice court, perhaps his attempt at a a more low-key session.
Tweet from @BenRothenberg
Tweet from @NovakFanClub
Djokovic has been battling a hamstring injury in recent weeks, which he reportedly sustained while playing in the Adelaide International.
As reported by The New Daily last week, Djokovic retired early from a practice match against Daniil Medvedev after seeking medical treatment on his left leg.
The session was meant to last for 75 minutes, but Djokovic bowed out after just 36 minutes.
Djokovic, who is the fourth seed this year, is scheduled to take to Rod Laver Arena against Spaniard Roberto Carballes Baena on Tuesday evening.
Coming up …
Also scheduled for tonight is women’s world No.2 Ons Jabeur, who will hit Rod Laver Arena at 7pm.
The 2022 Wimbledon and US Open finalist will begin her 2023 Australian Open campaign against Slovenia’s Tamara Zidansek.
Swiss player Belinda Bencic, the 12th seed at this year’s AO, will play Bulgaria’s Viktoriya Tomova at Margaret Court Arena.
Bencic will be followed by men’s singles second seed Casper Ruud against Czech player Tomas Machac.
Alex de Minaur will also play at Melbourne Park tonight at John Cain Arena.
So will fellow Aussie Aleksander Vukic, who is scheduled to appear at Show Court 3.
Vukic will surely be hoping for a repeat of some of the Show Court 3 magic he conjured up this time last year.