Toxic smoke from the fires ravaging Australia is affecting preparations for the year’s first Grand Slam tennis tournament in Melbourne.
Participants have pulled out of qualifying matches, one women’s player needed medical assistance and practice sessions have been suspended.
With less than a week to go to the start of the Australian Open, which runs from 20 January to 2 February, the air quality had deteriorated greatly, taking its first victims, including Slovenia’s Dalila Jakupovic, forced to continue her bid.
Violent fits of coughing forced the 28-year-old, seeded 180th in the world ranking, to withdraw from her qualifying match against Switzerland’s Stephanie Vogel after winning the first set by 6-4 and trailing in the second by 5-6.
Jakupovich said she feared she might collapse, which was why she went down on her knees on the court and had to be helped off by a member of the organisation and her opponent. She added that the situation was not healthy for players. She had thought Tuesday’s matches would have been called off, but they were not, giving players not much of a choice.
Similarly, Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard had to receive assistance from a doctor on the court for chest pains, also likely due to difficulty breathing. She went on to win her match, however, and thus made it to the second round of qualifiers.
The organisers of the Open have been slammed for the way they have managed the games thus far.
In addition to the fact that the Melbourne authorities deemed the air quality “dangerous” on Tuesday and advised city residents to stay indoors with all doors and windows closed, the heat of the Australian summer has made playing conditions particularly complicated. The organisers chose to suspend training sessions in Melbourne, but not the qualifiers, irking players.
“Shocked to see that qualifying matches have started at the Australian Open,” tweeted Luxembourg’s Mandy Minella.
Shocked to see that qualifying matches have started @AustralianOpen What about the health of all the people that have to work out there, especially the ballkids? #wherearethelimits? pic.twitter.com/2oldEptT2g— mandy minella (@mandyminella) January 14, 2020
“Why do we have to wait for something bad to happen to do an action?” tweeted World Number Five, Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, adding graphics showing the day’s weather readings for Melbourne to her message.
Adding his voice to the comments, Frenchman Gilles Simon tweeted, with a touch of irony, “When you have doctors who say playing in 45 degrees at the AO [Australian Open] is not dangerous, and judges who assert that the wet grass is not slippery at Wimbledon, you must be able to find an expert who certifies the air quality as good enough, no?”
Tournament boss Craig Tiley had said last week that it was improbable that the Australian Open would be cancelled, something that has never happened since World War II.
World No. 2 Novak Djokovic, president of the Players’ Council within the ATP, feels the issue should be tabled for discussion.
Since the outbreak of the devastating fires in September, at least 27 persons and one billion animals have been killed, over 2,000 homes have been destroyed, and 100,000 square kilometres (10 million hectares) – more than the area of South Korea, for example - have gone up in flames.
The Brussels Times