Australian Open qualifying was disrupted by air pollution before being cancelled for the day after rain followed ‘very poor’ air quality in Melbourne.
There had previously been concerns that ongoing bushfires in the country would have an impact on the tournament and this materialised as ‘unhealthy’ conditions delayed play by three hours.
Matches eventually started at 13:00 local time following the delay but were then impacted by the arrival of heavy rain which forced play to stop.
Tournament director, Craig Tiley, said last week that he believed the conditions would improve enough to allow the tournament to go ahead as planned.
“We have committed substantial extra resources to analysis, monitoring and logistics to ensure the health and safety of all players, staff and fans throughout the summer and have no other plans to move events.
“Assessing the likelihood of smoke-induced interruptions is a bit like how we treat heat and rain.
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“We have experts who analyse all available live data as specific to our sites as possible and consult regularly with tournament officials and, in the case of heat and smoke, medical experts.
Jakupovic collapses on-court
The delay follows the collapse and retirement of Slovenia’s Dalila Jakupovic earlier in the week after suffering a coughing fit during her match.
“It was really bad,” she said. “I never experienced something like this. I was really scared I would collapse because I couldn’t walk any more.”
“I think it was not fair because it’s not healthy for us,” she added. “I was surprised. I thought we would not be playing today but we really don’t have much choice.”
Canadian player Eugenie Bouchard also complained of a sore chest during her match against China’s You Xiaodi. Bouchard initially left the court but returned to take victory over Xiaodi in three sets 4-6, 7-6, 6-1.
After Jakupovic’s collapse organisers reiterated their commitment to ensuring players were safe on the court. They advised they would be ‘monitoring constantly’ on-court conditions and expected conditions to improve in the coming days.
“Further decisions will be made based on onsite data, and in close consultation with our medical team, the Bureau of Meteorology and scientists from EPA Victoria,” organisers said.
“As always the health and safety of our players, our staff and our fans is our priority.”
More to come?
There are likely to be more days with poor air quality to come as the tournament progresses and it seems tournament organisers will need to rely heavily on predictions from the Bureau of Meteorology.
But some players are already outraged that days like today and yesterday were allowed to happen in the first place.
Some have taken to social media to complain about the current approach taken by Tennis Australia. Many reference the City of Melbourne’s Council’s advice to locals to “stay indoors, keep windows and doors shut, and keep pets inside”.
Qualifiers continued today until rain forced play to stop, but what level of poor air quality does it take to postpone matches and are Tennis Australia prepared?