The Australian bushfires are still raging and the concerns that they might affect the Australian Open starting on Monday, are becoming a possibility following the collapse of a player during the qualifying competition.
It's not healthy for us. I was surprised, I thought we would not be playing but we don't have much choice. Dalila Jakupovic
Slovenia’s Dalila Jakupovic collapsed in a coughing fit when leading Stefanie Vogele at Melbourne Park apparently struggling for breath.
“I was really scared that I would collapse,” she said. “That’s why I went onto the floor because I couldn’t walk anymore.
“I don’t have asthma and never had breathing problems. I actually like heat.
“The physio came again and I thought it would be better. But the points were a bit longer and I just couldn’t breathe anymore, and I just fell on the floor.
“It’s not healthy for us. I was surprised, I thought we would not be playing but we don’t have much choice.”
She was forced to retire and immediately the Australian Open officials came under fire for allowing play when the air quality was described as ‘hazardous’ by the Victoria state’s environment watchdog who warned residents to stay indoors with closed windows. In contrast the Tennis Australia officials said in a statement that “conditions onsite (were) improving” and were being “constantly monitored”.
Craig Tiley, the AO tournament director defended the decision to go ahead.
“Today when we got up the smoke haze was significant so we made the decision to suspend practice and, as a result, to start the qualifying matches an hour later than was originally scheduled,” Reuters reported that Tiley told reporters before Jakupovic’s retirement.
“During the period of when we suspended practice and restarted the matches there was an improvement in the conditions.”
Meanwhile players who have arrived for the first grand slam of the season found themselves in a ‘pea soup haze’ with some questioning the start of the qualifying competition.
“Shocked to see that qualifying matches have started,” said another player competing for a place in the main draw.
Luxembourg’s Mandy Minella added in a tweet: “What about the health of all the people that have to work out there, especially the ballkids?”
There were more problems at the Kooyong Classic, the exhibition warm-up event for the AO when the match between Russia’s Sharapova and Germany’s Laura Siegemund was called off with Siegemend leading 7-6 5-5 after both players complained to the chair umpire. There the air quality was deemed to be ‘very poor’.
“After two and a half hours that was the right call for me. I think both of us felt it,” Sharapova told reporters.
“This is obviously maybe more extreme than some of the other conditions we’ve had.”
The air quality is supposed to improve from Wednesday when showers are expected while AO organisers say play will be limited to the three roofed stadiums which are one of the main features of Melbourne Park, and their eight indoor courts should the smoke hazard continue to be a cause of concern.