This is what happens to the human body when playing tennis in 69-degree heat. 

Video by Channel 7

 

On Thursday, former world number one, Novak Djokovic, defeated Gael Monfils at the Australian Open under conditions that were verging on unplayable.

The temperature at Melbourne Park reached 39 degrees, with a reflected court heat of 69 degrees Celsius.

On court, Monfils sought medical assistance for heat exhaustion, suffering from dizziness and stomach pain. Between points, he approached the chair umpire and warned he was on the brink of collapse.

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“Monfils is physically in a daze right now,” the commentator said of the 193cm Frenchman, who stood saturated, head to toe.

Both men received time warnings for taking too long before changing ends, as they sat hunched with ice packs around their necks.

Monfils said after the match he was, “dying on the court for 40 minutes,” and both players “took risks” by subjecting themselves to that level of heat. “It was tough to breathe… it was the hardest I have [experienced]”, he said.

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“I get super dizzy,” the 31-year-old added. “I think I have a small heatstroke for 40 minutes… I played two sets out of breath for nothing.”

Djokovic called the two hour and 45 minute match a, “danger in terms of health,” hinting that officials were more concerned about ticket sales than the well-being of players.

Listen: We discuss Tomic and Kyrgios on the latest episode of Mamamia Out Loud. (Post continues below…) 

Also on Thursday, Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza became so unwell as a result of the on-court temperature, she required a medical timeout.

There is an established process for when to suspend play at the Australian Open, known as the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature formula.

It takes into consideration temperature, wind speed, humidity and exposure to sunlight and and gauges how ‘comfortable’ the weather truly is. On Thursday, this number was not exceeded, and thus the Extreme Heat Policy was not initiated.

But what actually happens to the human body when exposed to heat that extreme? Are the effects as debilitating as Monfils describes?

Simply; yes.

Dr Peter Shearer, an emergency medicine expert at The Mount Sanai Hospital in New York, says your body naturally does a number of things in order to try and cool itself down. But as the temperature increases, and exposure to the sun is prolonged, “your body may lose that ability.”

Image via Getty.

If body temperature rises above 41 degrees Celsius one is at serious risk of heatstroke, where the hypothalamus (a region of the brain) begins to shut down. Our ability to regulate heat is therefore compromised, and heatstroke can - in the worst instances - be fatal.

Heat stroke also leads to swelling of the brain, which causes headaches, dizziness, confusion, seizures, delirium, hallucinations, agitation and unconsciousness.

For this reason, Dr Brad McKay told Mamamia, there are medical guidelines that say play should be ceased if the mercury rises above 38 degrees. This is not, however, adhered to.

In 2014, Canadian tennis player Frank Dancevic played the Australian Open in record-breaking heat, and began to hallucinate towards the end of the first set.

The 29-year-old reportedly saw cartoon characters, before fainting a few games later. He was unconscious for almost one minute.

During the same tournament, where player's water bottles actually melted, there was on-court vomiting, and many complained of headaches, muscle cramps and feeling light headed, with a number of ball boys not able to complete their match.

Donna Green, Senior Lecturer and Researcher at the Climate Change Research Centre, says it's a "poorly recognised fact" that our vital organs have an equivalent "self-combustion point". There is a temperature at which they stop functioning.

You can listen to the full episode of Mamamia Out Loud, here. 

This echoes the warning from Dr Liz Hanna, from the Climate Change Institute at the Australian National University, who told News Corp that if tennis players continue to perform in this heat, "someone could die".

When athletes are playing at their full capacity, she says, their "muscles are generating an enormous amount of additional heat." This can severely impact their cognitive and physical performance.

Dr Kathryn Bowen adds, "With heat stress, you don't always feel it in the moment." Often, she says, it is hours later that symptoms fully appear.

The health of athletes, whose bodies are their livelihood, needs to be prioritised above all else. And, as Dr Brad McKay says, "this week, it's plain to see we're failing them."

As inconvenient as it might be to suspend a match, the consequences of letting players sweat it out in conditions our bodies are not designed to withstand, could be unspeakably dire.

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