Players at Australian Open stricken by bushfire smoke

A general view of the city shrouded in smoke ahead of the 2020 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 14, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

The bushfires in Australia are having an impact on the Australian Open grand slam tennis tournament, with Slovenian player Dalila Jakupovic forced to abandon her qualifying match yesterday due to breathing problems.

A thick haze of smoke from the bushfires has enveloped Melbourne. Jakupovic dropped to her knees in a coughing fit during her match. Elsewhere in the tournament, former Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard and Australia’s Bernard Tomic also required medical assistance and timeouts due to breathing issues.

Jakupovic laid blame for her withdrawal on Australian Open officials, and told CNN that players were “p***ed and disappointed because we thought they would take better care of us”. She added: “I think it was not fair because it’s not healthy for us.

“I was surprised. I thought we would not be playing today but we really don’t have much choice. If they don’t put us on the court, maybe we get fined — I don’t know.

“It would be maybe better to see if tomorrow is better. They still have time.

“It was really bad. I never experienced something like this and I was really scared. I was scared that I would collapse. That’s why I went on the floor. Because I couldn’t walk any more. When I was on the ground it was easier to get some air.”

Victoria state’s chief health officer Brett Sutton said in a press conference the air quality in Melbourne was in the “very poor” to “hazardous” range, and was “the worst in the world” overnight.

The Australian Open said in a statement it will be using onsite data and consulting its medical team, the Bureau of Meteorology and scientists from Melbourne’s Environment Protection Authority to decide if it is safe for play to go ahead.

Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley said: “Like when it is too hot or when raining, play will be suspended should the above measures deem that necessary.”

Tiley said: “We are also consulting closely with the WTA and the ATP and the decision we made this morning, both tours supported those and recommended those. This is a new experience for all of us, how we manage air quality, and therefore we have got to rely on those experts that advise us how best to continue.”

Australian Open organisers responded to queries on social media saying: “We have three roofed-stadiums and eight indoor courts at Melbourne Park.

“In the unlikely case of extreme smoke conditions, the roofs will be closed on the three stadium courts and play will continue in their air-conditioned and air-filtered environment.

“If smoke infiltrates the three stadium courts, the air conditioning system will filter it out.”