Get set for a bone-drying start to the tennis season. As players and fans get ready for Australian Open - starting Monday, the Melbourne sky is prepared to sizzle with predictions of the mercury touching the 40 degree Celsius mark during the day.
While the first week of the New Year was rather pleasant, the week starting 13th January will not be as forgiving. Signs of rising temperatures have already begun to show on faces of stars who are training in Melbourne Park. On Friday, local hero Lleyton Hewitt opted to practice bare-chested. At 1800 hrs, the mercury was still hovering around the 35 degree mark - the maximum recorded in the day. (Following image courtesy: Australian bureau of meteorology)
The battle with heat though is more intense for foreign players than locals like Hewitt. Veteran Roger Federer was seen drenched in sweat when he trained on Friday. He took regular and big gulps of his energy drink - crucial to avoid heat-strokes and other physical ailments.
Last year saw some of the most testing conditions with the stubborn mercury consistently above the 40 degree mark. It was so hot in some parts that the Australian bureau of meteorology reportedly had to add colours to its heat index. Large fans were installed on the court and bags filled with ice and towels became a common sight.
While players will be hoping that conditions are not as hot as they were last year - they will be joined in their prayers by ball kids, officials and fans who too brave the sun to enjoy top-class tennis action.