Craig Tiley, the chief executive of Tennis Australia, has definitively stated that “the Australian Open is happening” amid growing concern and complaints from players over Melbourne’s air quality from bushfires in the country.
The Open would start on time, on January 20, and end on Febraury 2 as scheduled, said Tiley.
Tiley, who is also tournament director for the Australian Open, has defended the decision to begin the qualifying rounds of the event this week despite city authorities advising the public to stay indoors on Tuesday due to the smoke reaching hazardous levels – the same day that Slovenia’s Dalila Jakupovic was forced to retire from her qualifier, complaining of breathing difficulties caused by the air quality.
Several players have voiced their concerns over the conditions in Melbourne, with Britain’s Liam Broady taking to Twitter to call for greater protection for players.
— Liam Broady (@Liambroady) January 15, 2020
“The more I think about the conditions we played in a few days ago, the more it boils my blood,” Broady wrote. “On tour we let so many things go that aren’t right but, at some point, we have to make a stand. All players need protection, not just a select few.”
Canadian Brayden Schnur joined with Broady, calling on the senior players to stand up and protect the interests of lower-ranked players. “It’s got to come from the top guys,” he said. “Roger [Federer] and Rafa [Nadal] are a little bit selfish in thinking about themselves and their careers.”
Tiley is adamant that Tennis Australia is acting on the advice of its medical experts and would cancel or rearrange games in the event that players’ health was endangered, although he did admit that more could have been done to make the situation clear to players, who were not informed of the reasoning behind the decision to go ahead with play.
“We made a decision early on not to go through numbers [with players] because it was an extremely complex issue,” Tiley said. “Air quality is a very complex and confusing issue. It’s made more complex and is more confusing by going on an app, because there are different apps and websites that will give you different readings. Our medical team were satisfied with the conditions that the players were competing in, per all of the research and the data and the science that they have.”
Earlier this week, it was mooted that the tournament could be exclusively held in indoor venues if conditions were bad enough. A thunderstorm in the city on Wednesday has alleviated some of the threats posed by the smoke and fire, but conditions are expected to remain similar throughout the two-week tournament.