Tramlines

44 degree heat and terrifying lightning as apocalyptic weather hits Melbourne

Play at the Australian Open was called to a halt for more than four hours on day four with temperatures at Melbourne Park nudging 44 degrees Celsius.

And then, just when it seemed things could get no crazier, a huge storm broke out that forced play to be called off for a very different reason: flooded courts and a string of lightning strikes!

Weather played havoc with the schedule of play from the start of Thursday's play.

Organisers, who had been slammed for forcing players to play on in searing temperatures on Tuesday and Wednesday, enacted the third stage of their "Extreme Heat Policy" for the first time at about 1.50pm local time - or 2:50am UK time.

Play continued on the Rod Laver Arena and Hisense Arena, however, after the retractable roofs over the main show courts were closed.

Australian Open lightning

With players having to finish the ongoing set before play ceased or the roofs were closed, however, Maria Sharapova's match on Rod Laver Arena continued in the full glare of the sun for 50 minutes after the policy was enacted.

The third seed eventually finished off Italian Karin Knapp 6-3 4-6 10-8 to reach the third round.

"I remember being really close to passing out but I'm feeling much better now," Sharapova said in a courtside interview. "I think I'm just getting numb to it."

Maria Sharapova shelters under an ice-filled towel at the Australian Open

With forecast highs of 44 degrees Celsius, another day of suffocating heat at the year's first grand slam was guaranteed to keep the debate on whether play should continue rumbling on.

American Varvara Lepchenko clearly struggled in the heat in the first match on court eight, which she lost 4-6 6-0 6-1 to Romanian Simona Halep.

"I think they definitely should have not started the matches at first place," Lepchenko said.

"I think they should have started the matches after the temperature cooled down a little bit because this is just too much.

"Obviously it is very dangerous if someone has conditions with their heart or anything like that or just being in this temperature it's almost like going to (the) sauna."

Rather than use the raw Celsius readings to assess the heat, organisers prefer to use the Wet Bulb Global Temperature composite, which also gauges humidity and wind to identify the perceived conditions.

McKewen said that the threshold was not reached on Tuesday and Wednesday with world number seven Tomas Berdych suggesting that perhaps it had been set too high.

The hot weather is forecast to continue through Friday before a dramatic drop in temperatures at the weekend.

Reuters / Eurosport