Novak DjoNovak Djokovic has called on the Australian Open organisers to consider delaying the event due to start on January 20 at Melbourne as the haze from the bushfires raging around the area could threaten players’ health.
But health is a concern for me and for anybody. Novak Djokovic
With fires getting closer to Melbourne the city is getting blanketed by smoke created by the fires burning to the east of the city compromising air quality.
Djokovic, president of the ATP Players Council, said in the early hours of Sunday in Brisbane where he is playing in the ATP Cup, that any delay would be a last resort, but it needed to be considered.
Responding to a question from the media about the bushfires, Djokovic admitted that it was a fair question.
“Obviously, you have to always… because of some extreme weather and conditions, you just have to consider it.
“But I think that’s probably the very, very last option for anything. I think they’re going to try to do anything to not delay in terms of days and when it starts.
“I mean, and I understand why, but if it comes down to those conditions affecting the health of players, I think we should definitely consider it.”
The appalling bushfires have been raging in Australia for weeks, leaving 24 dead and destroying hundreds of properties.
The situation is not being ignored by officials who reacted to the conditions when they moved an ATP Challenger and ITF World Tennis Tour event from Canberra to Bendigo.
They said play would not have been possible in the Australian capital which has been choked by smoke.
Djokovic likened the air quality problem to those experienced by players in China but pointed out the fires had created an unprecedented situation.
He himself had not spoken to the TA authorities but his team had with Craig Tiley, the head of the national governing body.
“They’re obviously tracking the situation every single day as it’s evolving and hopefully calming down with the smoke and fires,” he said. “I think they will, if it continues the same way and if the quality of air is affected… I think Tennis Australia probably will be forced to, I think, create some rules about it.
“I mean, it’s tough for them because scheduling has to be respected in terms of play and the Australian Open starts at a certain time, so there’s a lot of different things involved.
“But health is a concern for me and for anybody.”
He confirmed the ATP Players’ Council was due to meet before the Australian Open and the issue would be on the agenda.
Meanwhile Nick Kyrgios, the bad boy of Australian tennis, has started a major campaign to raise funds for those afflicted by the devastating bushfires by donating $200 for every ace he hits during the summer.
The situation in Canberra, his home town, was clearly in his mind when he spoke after hitting 20 aces during his first match at the ATP Cup in Brisbane raising the first $4000 for the fund.
His gesture has been followed by his compatriots, including Alex de Minaur, John Millman, Dylan Alcott and Samantha Stosur.
It has also prompted the ATP Cup organisers to promise a further $100 per ace for every ace hit during the event with their donation going to the Australian Red Cross bushfire relief and recovery efforts.
It was an emotional Kyrgios who spoke after his victory on the opening day of the event and when it was pointed out what his first contribution had raised the spectators applauded his efforts.
“I don’t really care about the praise too much. We’ve got the ability and the platform to do something. My home town is Canberra and we’ve got the most toxic air in the world at the moment, that’s pretty sad,” he declared. “It’s tough”.
He then apologised as he wiped tears from his eyes before continuing.
“It’s all going to all the families, firefighters, animals, everyone who is losing homes, losing families … it’s a real thing.
“It’s bigger than tennis,”
He added: “It’s tough to go out there and concentrate on tennis, to be honest. Every ace I was hitting that’s all I was thinking about.
“Every time I stepped up to the line that’s all I was thinking about”.
His efforts have been recognised by those in authority and his request that an exhibition match be organised to raise more funds, has been agreed.
A “Rally for Relief” exhibition match will now be scheduled for the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne on January 15th.