Bent over in exhaustion before serving. Resting on his racket between points. Grasping for a rubber tube blowing cool air next to his seat on changeovers. Two medical timeouts and one visit from a trainer.
Daniil Medvedev was struggling so much with the suffocating heat and humidity at the Ariake Tennis Park on Wednesday during the Olympic men’s tennis tournament that at one point the chair umpire, Carlos Ramos, asked him if he could continue playing.
“I can finish the match, but I can die,” Medvedev replied. “If I die, are you going to be responsible?”
Afterward, Medvedev said he felt “darkness” in his eyes. “I didn’t know what to do to feel better,” the Russian Olympic Committee player added. “I was ready to just fall down on the court.”
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Somehow, the second-seeded Medvedev produced a 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 victory over Fabio Fognini of Italy to reach the quarterfinals at the Tokyo Olympics.
Spanish player Paula Badosa was less fortunate.
She left the court in a wheelchair after retiring from her quarterfinal match versus Marketa Vondrousova because of heatstroke.
Badosa also had to withdraw from a mixed doubles match later with partner Pablo Carreno Busta.
Vondrousova, the Czech player who eliminated Naomi Osaka a day earlier, had won the first set 6-3. She’s now in the semifinals and into the medal rounds and will next face fourth-seeded Elina Svitolina of Ukraine. Ninth-seeded Belinda Bencic of Switzerland will play 15th-seeded Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan in the other semifinal match.
After some rain a day earlier, the temperature rose to 88 degrees, but the heat index made it feel like a sizzling 99 degrees.
The difficulties the players faced raised questions over why organizers did not grant requests earlier in the tournament from Medvedev and other players — including top-ranked Novak Djokovic — to move all of the tennis matches at the Games to the evening.
As Wednesday’s play neared its conclusion, organizers revealed that matches would start at 3 p.m. starting Thursday to make it easier on the players. Matches had been starting at 11 a.m.
Djokovic was fortunate to play later in the day after Center Court was covered by shadows. The Serbian great served nine aces and defeated Spanish training partner Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 6-3, 6-1 to keep his Golden Slam bid going.
“The conditions are brutal,” Djokovic said. “I’ve played tennis professionally now 20 years and I’ve never faced this kind of conditions in my entire life on a consecutive daily basis.”
Djokovic’s quarterfinal opponent will be Kei Nishikori of Japan, who reached his third consecutive Olympic quarterfinal by defeating Ilya Ivashka of Belarus 7-6 (7), 6-0.
Djokovic then won again with Serbian partner Nina Stojanovic in the opening round of the mixed doubles competition. They beat Marcelo Melo and Luisa Stefani of Brazil 6-3, 6-4. In singles, Djokovic is attempting to become the first man to achieve a Golden Slam by winning all four Grand Slam tournaments and Olympic gold in the same calendar year.
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