Heat management in tennis: A new solution?

Written by By Zane Hinshaw, CNN

Founded nearly a century ago as the Australian Open at Phillip Island, the coveted tennis tournament in Melbourne boasts an unrivaled history. But its over-the-top reveal in the mid-20th century — the Twentieth Century-style zed-effect roof and the red-hot hot dog vendors — may go down as its most outrageous.

But, since the turn of the century, debate over how to combat the adverse effect of years of sun exposure — particularly at the coast, when at the Australian Open players play on humid — is trickling into the mainstream.

Last week, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) accepted the feasibility of outdoor outdoor tennis courts. In an exclusive interview, ITF President David Haggerty told CNN Sports Festival that they may be considered as soon as the 2021 Australian Open, a sudden evolution of how the competition was viewed.

Eyes on the skies

The decision to upgrade outdoor courts to both air and fire-conditioned environments was supported by both Haggerty and the Australian Open.

For many years, the pressure had been to bring indoor matches to greater public acclaim, using such technologies as heat-shielded mechanisms and heat lamps to mitigate the effect of heat. When temperatures in the opening week reached a sweltering 38 degrees in 2016, the tournament referred to a possible “advance in the chronology” of the event to bring matches indoors.

More recently, China has become a growing force in the sport. Last year, China claimed the number two position in terms of men’s singles ranking and the number three spot in overall ranking. However, the country still relies heavily on professional athletes from home soil. Of the 75 players who reached the finals in 2017, 60 of them came from China.

Researchers of the initiative

During an OpenStyle interview with Haggerty, where in-vogue wardrobe head-wear and high-end watches were questioned, a request to speak to a heat-related expert was received quickly. Kochen Shi is a Professor of Loyola Marymount University’s School of Health Sciences. He is a senior lecturer at the university’s Biomedical Engineering Laboratory and serves as the President of the International Longevity Center. He is also one of the world’s leading experts on health strategies to combat climate change, not as a past-time, but as an engineer.

Shi had been asked to lead a group of researchers to test whether athlete recovery could be improved via technology, since the presence of air conditioning does reduce global warming. In other words, can we keep this effect?

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“I think it’s crucial that we’re not counting on technology to address climate change,” says Shi. “In order to achieve a change in the way people adapt to climate change, it’s necessary to find approaches to reduce human capital to make up for the loss of natural capital.

“There’s a direct connection between the amount of people in older age and emissions. People have a large amount of revenue that they send abroad that is contributing to a higher carbon emissions.”

There are further reasons to use technology to improve athletes’ recovery.

“Sport events in the international arena bring tremendous revenue through ticket sales,” Shi explains. “These funds are generated through event production. Through the use of air conditioning, some of the costs of production can be recouped. Therefore, air conditioning facilities are now becoming more common at international events.

“The resolution of the stadium can also be enhanced by using the use of air conditioning. Every stadium has some sort of heat control, regardless of their form of construction. If the air conditioning is used during the heat of the day, the air can be turned off completely. The results of this technology is that it can increase the ventilation and re-circulation and lessens the build-up of excess heat in the stadium.”

‘A new approach’

Shi says the true solution to boosting athletes’ recovery could come from completely rewriting structures to their climate, with one idea: build air coolers in large sections of stadiums.

“There are buildings that have air conditioning running 24/7, so these kinds of air cooling stations can be installed,” says Shi. “They can be made to optimize air flow and performance by increasing ventilation volume, transforming heat dissipation to heat exchange.”

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