Players suffer in smoke as Djokovic says Australian Open might have to be halted

15 January 2020, 08:50

Eugenie Bouchard was forced into taking a medical time-out during Australian Open qualifying
Eugenie Bouchard was forced into taking a medical time-out during Australian Open qualifying. Picture: Getty

By Megan White

The Australian Open was delayed for the second day in a row on Wednesday after players were affected by poor air quality caused by the country’s bush fires.

Qualifying in the tennis tournament was postponed by three hours on Wednesday as a smoky haze continued to drift over Melbourne from the nearby blazes.

Play began at 1pm when, although the air quality index continued to show conditions as "unhealthy", the sky was noticeably clearer.

A smoky haze hangs over Melbourne, Australia
A smoky haze hangs over Melbourne, Australia. Picture: PA

The main challenge for the players was stifling heat, although that was broken by a fierce thunderstorm that hit Melbourne Park late in the afternoon and sent players scurrying for the locker rooms.

Organisers were also criticised on Tuesday after beginning matches only an hour later than scheduled on Tuesday and playing through the day despite conditions indicating a danger to health.

Spectators wore masks as protection against the poor air quality
Spectators wore masks as protection against the poor air quality. Picture: PA

Several players complained of breathing issues, with Slovenia's Dalila Jakupovic retiring during her first-round match after collapsing on court.

Men's world No 2 Novak Djokovic has voiced his concerns for player safety and has suggested the tournament should be cancelled if smoke levels remain as they are. 

He said: "If it comes down to those conditions affecting the health of players, I think we should definitely consider it."

The Australian Open has a scale for determining when play should be suspended because of heat but has not announced what parameters it is working to regarding air quality.

The chief health officer for the state of Victoria, Dr Brett Sutton, called for that to change on Wednesday, telling local media: "Tennis Australia needs to work up an air quality policy.

"I can't make a call on what individual thresholds might be, it really does depend on what it might mean to enclose a space and what filtration systems they might have as alternatives.

"But I think they need to consider through all those thresholds, from poor to hazardous air quality, what their alternatives might be with a view to protecting as many players as possible."

Novak Djokovic plays a shot during a practice session
Novak Djokovic plays a shot during a practice session. Picture: PA

In the lead-up to the event, tournament director Craig Tiley said strategies were being considered, including playing matches indoors, with three roofed stadia at Melbourne Park and eight indoor courts at Melbourne Park National Tennis Centre to call upon if required.

A statement on Wednesday read: "Conditions at Melbourne Park are being constantly monitored and further decisions will be made using the onsite data and in close consultation with our medical team, the Bureau of Meteorology and scientists from EPA Victoria.

"The onsite data and measurements early this morning were similar to yesterday, when practice and play were suspended and delayed. Conditions yesterday were forecast to improve throughout the day, which is what occurred."

Meanwhile, players including Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer were due to take part in a special exhibition on Wednesday evening titled 'Rally for Relief'.

Organisers were expecting to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to help communities affected by the bush fire disaster.

The sport has so far raised around £1.5million for the cause.

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