Ed. note: Clay Voigt is the brother of the article’s author, Jane Voigt, and is a certified medical professional in the state of Virginia.
Shorts, shirts and skirts cling to their bodies. Sweat drips from their noses as they lean in to serve. At changeovers, ball kids hustle to the baselines, mopping up puddles of moisture, as players sit with ice towels draped around their necks.
Just how do these men and women, competing in Washington D.C.’s infamous summer heat and humidity at Citi Open, do it?
How do they dash along the baseline, reverse direction, scramble to the net and swing racquets weighing 11 ounces, with speeds untraceable by the human eye only to attack again and again after a sparing 25 seconds of recovery between points?
Quite clearly, pro tennis players are athletes of the tallest order, conditioned to compete under all circumstances — even today’s 90+ degrees in the nation’s capital. Their physiological systems stocked with networks that expand and contract have been conditioned to supply blood, oxygen and mental steadfastness as their work loads demand. Yet, human anatomy has its priorities when confronted with high levels of exertion, just like the Citi Open players experience.
To cool off, their bodies sweat. But with humidity at 40 percent today evaporation of sweat slows, which can stress all those necessary systems needed for peak performance. Blood rushes to the skin’s surface to replace blood lost through sweat. That means less blood is available for muscles to work properly, especially the heart. To compensate, the heart beats faster.
“The human body and mind withstand a lot,” Clay Voigt, certified registered nurse anesthetist, told The Tennis Island. “Pro athletes are motivated. Hydration and electrolyte replacement, conditioning and will power are huge factors in their ability to compete. More than that, though, these guys really love what they do.”
Samantha Stosur, the No. 2 seed, really had to adjust her winning ways today against Irina Falconi. Down 2-5 in the second, the Aussie ran off five games to advance to the third round, 6-1, 7-5. Their match lasted an hour and 20 minutes.
“When I’m at home training in Florida, I definitely take note of what my weight is before and after. Quite often, I can lose 3-4 pounds during a session easily,” Stosur said when asked about the heat on Stadium Court this afternoon. “Here it would probably be somewhat the same. So, you have be drinking a lot during and after.”
Are Australians better equipped to withstand the Washington D.C. conditions?
“Generally, Aussies grew up in similar conditions, depending where you’re from in Australia,” Stosur began. “So typically I don’t think the Aussies have trouble in the heat; we kind of like those conditions, which makes it easier for us.”
Wildcard Louisa Chirico got a huge dose of Washington conditions during her upset of No. 5 seed, Alize Cornet. The match went the distance, 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(4), and was the biggest win for Chirico, who is ranked No. 128.
“It was definitely hot,” Chirico began, sighing heavily. “We were having long rallies; we were both feeling it a little bit. But fitness is a big part of my game, so I tried to use that to my strength today. I’m happy to get through.”
The 19-year-old will make her main draw quarterfinal debut against compatriots Sloane Stephens, who advanced when defending champion and No. 4 seed, Svetlana Kuznetsova withdrew due to injury.
“It was really humid,” Chirico began. “She plays very physical. I like to think that I do, as well. With the long rallies, I really needed to rely on my fitness out there. When I’m training, like not maintaining during tournaments, I definitely do a little bit of fitness every day but not as much as tennis, but at least an hour a day.”
Scheduling time on and off court to optimize match results is obviously a priority for pros. That’s why many employ trainers and nutritionists, if they can afford them. A player’s age also influences the mix. Since Chirico is 19, she may not require as much fitness or she may not want to tax her still-growing body. In contrast, Serena Williams probably spends much more time in the gym than on court given her age — 33 — and the length of her career. Before she retired in 2010, Elena Dementieva spent 60 percent of her day in the gym and the remainder on court.
If these pros are so fit, why does sweat run off the tips of noses at such a rapid rate?
“With humidity there’s less evaporation of sweat; we don’t cool as well,” triathlete-europe.com reported. “That sweat remains on the skin, making it seem like you’re sweating more, but you’re not — that’s the lack of evaporation.”
Temperature forecasts for the remainder of the tournament look reasonable for August in the south. Showers could throw a curve Friday, but semifinal Saturday and final Sunday look marvelous with temperatures in the mid-80s and humidity less than 30 percents.
Perhaps conditions won’t matter much to Stosur, if she can continue her winning ways. She has now won seven consecutive matches.
“Anytime you can string a few matches together it makes you feel more confident,” Stosur said. “Like today, I came back from 5-2. It did that in Bad Gastein as well. You do start to feel like no matter what the situation is you’re going to find a way to get out of it. That thought process happens easier when you’ve been winning. It’s a nice feeling, but you have to go out there every day and do it. No one’s going to give you the next win.”