Poor air quality caused by ongoing bushfires has forced one player to retire from her match and delays during qualifications at the Australian Open.
Dalila Jakupovic retired at 6-4 5-6 against Switzerland’s Stefanie Voegel, the Slovenian helped off the court in Melbourne after collapsing during a coughing fit.
Smoke haze caused by bushfires led the organisers to temporarily suspend practice sessions for the tournament on Tuesday, with qualifying beginning later in the morning following a delay.
“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,” a statement from organisers said.
“As always the health and safety of our players, our staff and our fans is our priority.”
However, Jakupovic said it was “not fair” that officials asked players to take the court in those conditions.
She said: “I was really scared that I would collapse. 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 today but we don’t have much choice.”
Eugenie Bouchard, a finalist at Wimbledon in 2014, also left the court during qualifying, complaining of a sore chest, during a match against China’s You Xiaodi.
Bouchard returned to play the final set following the medical timeout, and won 4-6 7-6 6-1.
The Canadian said she would train indoors on Wednesday because it wasn’t “worth going outside” following her three-hour match.
Bouchard said: “I felt like it was tough to breathe and a bit nauseous. I felt like the conditions got worse as the match went on, but I was out there for a long time.”
The #airquality in Melbourne is hazardous today due to the bushfires. The @EPA_Victoria advises Melburnians should try to stay indoors, keep windows and doors shut, and keep pets inside.
For up to date air quality information visit: https://t.co/e9zrpXcjOe #melbournesmoke
Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority had warned that air quality in the state – of which Melbourne is the capital – would range from moderate to hazardous because of wildfires that have been raging for months both in Victoria and the neighbouring state of New South Wales.
Players affected by the delayed start to qualifying include Australia’s former No 1 Bernard Tomic.
Meanwhile, at the Kooyong Classic exhibition in Melbourne, former world number one Maria Sharapova struggled in the heat and smoke and her match against Laura Siegemund was called off late in the second set.
“Both players are feeling the smoke so we are going to stop the match at this point,” the umpire said.
Australian Open tournament director, Craig Tiley, said last week that he was hopeful the tournament would go ahead but said air quality would be closely monitored.
“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 (following the cancellation of an event in Australia’s capital Canberra),” Tiley said in a statement.
“Assessing the likelihood of smoke-induced interruptions is a bit like how we treat heat and rain.
“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.
Not the best air quality this morning in #Melbourne pic.twitter.com/InwwuFn7KJ
“We have access to real-time monitoring of air quality at all of our venues and are working closely with medical personnel and local experts onsite to ensure we have the best possible information available to make any decisions regarding whether play should be halted at any point.
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