The International Tennis Federation (ITF) announced on Wednesday that they would be moving the start of each day's play at the Olympics from 11 am to 3 pm local time after a number of players, including Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev, voiced their concern about the extreme playing conditions in Tokyo.
However, the move comes a little too late for Spaniard Paula Badosa, who had to retire midway through her quarterfinal clash against Marketa Vondrousova after suffering a heatstroke. Badosa was too sick to even walk off the court and required assistance from a wheelchair.
The ITF, who had previously been unwilling to shift the starting time, finally ceded to the players' requests and announced the change in their latest statement.
"In the interests of player health and welfare and following extensive consultation, the ITF has announced a change of schedule due to the increasing heat and humidity currently being experienced in Tokyo, Japan. Tokyo 2020 Olympic Tennis Event matches will begin at 3 pm from Thursday, 29 July 2021," ITF said.
This will come as music to the ears of Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev, both of whom have called for a change in the schedule right from the start of the tournament.
Medvedev almost fell victim to the sweltering conditions during his third-round match against Fabio Fognini on Wednesday. The Russian required medical attention on multiple occasions and was heard telling the chair umpire during the second set: "I can finish the match, but I can die. If I die, who will take responsibility".
After the second set, the ITF's Extreme Heat rule came into effect and Medvedev used the 10-minute break to take a cold shower and cool down. He returned a different player and sealed a three-set win over Fognini.
But it's surprising the ITF did not take action much earlier to prevent the players from suffering. Temperatures have soared into the late 30s in Tokyo in recent days and players have visibly struggled to cope with the heat and humidity.
In that regard, the ITF said they could only come to such a decision due to the reduction in player fields after matches were held across all disciplines on Wednesday.
"The decision to start matches at 3 pm JST is possible due to the outcomes of today's matches across the five competitions being staged and the size of player field, and is designed to further safeguard player health," continued ITF. "It has been made following consultation with the IOC, Tokyo 2020, Olympic Broadcast Services, as well as the Olympic Tennis Event players, referee, medical experts and other key stakeholders."
Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev continue their bid for gold on Thursday
Novak Djokovic will take on Kei Nishikori, while Daniil Medvedev will lock horns with Pablo Carreno Busta in the quarterfinals of the Olympics on Thursday.
Djokovic and Medvedev have been allotted the second slot on Centre Court and Court 1 respectively, meaning they will both be playing in slightly cooler evening conditions.
If Djokovic beats Nishikori, he will face either Alexander Zverev or Jeremy Chardy in the semifinals.