Australian Open heats up, right in in time for semifinals

              Romania's Simona Halep reacts during her semifinal loss to Spain's Garbine Muguruza at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — The temperature topped 100 degrees F (38 degrees Celsius) in the first of the Australian Open women’s semifinals and got slightly warmer in the second, when Garbiñe Muguruza and Simona Halep were going shot-for-shot in the hot-hot sun.

The sudden burst of heat got very, very close to triggering the top level of the tournament’s extreme heat policy, which means suspending play and closing the retractable roofs on the show courts and, more or less, making it indoors.

That would have suited two-time major champion Halep, a runner-up in Melbourne in 2018.

“Yes, it was very, very hot today and I felt it,” the fourth-seeded Halep said after losing 7-6 (8), 7-5, despite being a point away from winning both sets. “Killed me after the first set. The sun was strong. I didn’t like that much to play in this weather.”

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 meaning it’s mandatory for the roof to be closed, it reached 4.9 while Muguruza and Halep were playing on Thursday afternoon. The temperature edged up to 102 degrees F (39 degrees C).

“Conditions were tough out there,” Muguruza said, adding that she had primed herself to deal it.

“I asked if it was opened or closed. They told me it’s not enough to close it,” she said. “I’m like, ‘OK, well … I’m going to have to suffer out there.’”

Sofia Kenin grew up in Florida, and said she had no problem with the heat in her 7-6 (6), 7-5 semifinal win over top-ranked Ash Barty, an Aussie who is also used to the hot conditions. The so-called Heat Stress Reading — that scale from 1-5 — was on 4.3 when their match started.

Melbourne’s fickle weather regularly generates news during the season’s first major, but the start of the decade has brought some extremes.

Day 11 was by far the hottest so far in a tournament. Until then, relatively mild temperatures — in terms of the Australian summer, at least — followed a few rainy days. The rain — it was dirty red one day when the wet weather pushed through a dust storm — helped alleviate the terrible air quality that affected the qualifying tournament because of smoke from devastating bush fires to the north and east of Melbourne.

It’ll be a furnace Friday, with Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology forecasting temperatures in parts of Melbourne to hit 109 degrees F (43 degrees C) before a cooler change — possibly in time for the second men’s semifinal match between Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev.

Then the slide is expected to begin, with maximum forecast temperatures of 91 degrees C (33 degrees C) on Saturday — when Kenin and Muguruza are set to meet in the women’s final — 73 degrees F (23 degrees C) on Sunday for the men’s final and down to 64 degrees F (18 degrees C) to start next week.