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NEW YORK (Reuters) - One of the hottest summers New York has experienced claimed its first victim at the U.S. Open on Wednesday when Victoria Azarenka fainted on court and was taken to the hospital.
Andy Murray, once again shouldering the burden of British expectations, got quick relief from the roasting heat when he raced through his first round match in under two hours, but his straight-sets win was overshadowed by Azarenka's frightening collapse.
The 10th-seeded Belarussian, wearing a black dress, dropped to the court in the first set of her match against Argentina's Gisela Dulko with headache-like symptoms.
Medical staff came to her aid and she was whisked away in a wheelchair as a medical official checked her pulse and then to a waiting ambulance for tests at a nearby hospital, ending her bid to win this year's U.S. Open.
"I was scared," Dulko later told reporters. "She went to the floor. I was worried for her."
Azarenka quit a match at the Australian Open last year that was played in a once-a-century heatwave but U.S. Open officials said the severe weather was not the only cause of her tumble.
Local television reported that she slipped and fell before her match and sought medical help but officials could not confirm the report.
"Out of respect to her privacy, we can not give any more details," tournament referee Brian Earley said in a statement. "However, we can say that this does not seem to be primarily a heat-related illness."
Although the weather was slightly cooler than the previous day, tournament officials invoked their rarely used Extreme Weather Policy half an hour before the start of play after the air temperature reached 88 degrees Fahrenheit (31.2 Celsius).
The policy allows all players to be given ice packs at the change of ends and to be sheltered from the sun by umbrellas. Women players are also allowed to request a 10-minute break between the second and third sets.
Murray, drenched in sweat and wearing a baseball cap to protect himself from the blazing sun, escaped the worst of the conditions as he needed just one hour and 51 minutes to win his clash with Lukas Lacko 6-3 6-2 6-2 at Arthur Ashe Stadium .
"I managed to get through in straight sets so I'm pleased, but it was a lot tougher than the score suggests," the fourth-seeded Scotsman said in a courtside interview.
"Everyone in my (supporters) box always tells me it's a lot tougher watching in the heat than playing but I'm not so sure. It was brutal conditions."
Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych joined the growing list of seeds to stumble at the first hurdle when the Czech was outclassed 7-6 6-4 6-4 by France's Michael Llodra, better known as a doubles specialist.
Editing by Frank Pingue