Tennis: Poor air continues to disrupt Australian Open qualifying

Tennis: Poor air continues to disrupt Australian Open qualifying

Australian Open smoke
Tourists pose for a photo in the stands of one of the outside courts at Melbourne Park as the horizon is covered with thick smoke haze in Melbourne on Jan 15, 2020, ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament. (Photo: AFP/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake)

MELBOURNE: Australian Open qualifying was disrupted for a second successive day due to poor air quality on Wednesday (Jan 15) as smoke from bushfires continued to blanket Melbourne in an acrid haze.

Organisers of the year's first Grand Slam said practice had been suspended at Melbourne Park until 11am (8am, Singapore time) and qualifiers would not get under way until 1pm.

The EPA listed air quality in Melbourne, habitually ranked as one of the world's most liveable cities, as "very poor" at 9am but not at the "hazardous" levels registered on Tuesday.

Very poor means the air is likely smoky or dusty and that people might suffer coughing or shortness of breath.

The deteriorating conditions followed months of deadly bushfires that have engulfed huge swathes of the Australian countryside, leaving at least 27 people dead and more than 2,000 homes destroyed.

Qualifying was delayed for more than an hour on Tuesday but organisers were criticised for allowing it to resume, with Slovenia's Dalila Jakupovic forced to retire after suffering a coughing fit during her match.

"Conditions at Melbourne Park are being constantly monitored and further decisions will be made using the onsite data and in close consultation with our medical team, the Bureau of Meteorology and scientists from EPA Victoria," governing body Tennis Australia said in a statement on Wednesday.

READ: Will bushfires affect Australian Open tennis?

Play and practice at regional tournaments in Traralgon and Bendigo, along with a junior event at Royal Park in Melbourne, had also been suspended, it added.

Scheduled horse race meetings in two separate Melbourne suburbs were also cancelled on Wednesday, governing body Racing Victoria said, "due to smoke haze and poor air quality".

Races in Melbourne's western suburb of Werribee were scrapped a day earlier.

In a potential respite, the Victoria Bureau of Meteorology said thunderstorms were expected for the state later Wednesday, some of them severe with potential flash flooding.

READ: Rain to bring relief, risks to fire-stricken Australia​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Air quality is expected to improve with the rain showers but the weather is likely to cause more delays to the Australian Open schedule, creating further headaches for organisers.

Qualifying for the first Grand Slam of the year, due to start next week, also got under way late on Tuesday and Slovenian Dalila Jakupovic did not cope well.

She ended her match against Switzerland's Stefanie Voegele early after a coughing fit, saying: "I was really scared that I would collapse."

Former Australian Open semi-finalist Bouchard also had problems and needed a medical time-out after complaining of a sore chest.

Some players hit out for qualifying being allowed to go ahead, including world number five Elina Svitolina.

"Why do we need to wait for something bad to happen (to take) action?" she tweeted.

Despite the conditions, organisers have said it was unlikely the Grand Slam would be delayed, pointing to Melbourne Park having three roofed stadiums and eight other indoor courts.

Any smoke hazards will be treated in a similar way to extreme heat and rain, with umpires able to stop play if it is considered too dangerous to continue, they added.

Bushfire smoke has affected a number of elite sporting competitions involving football, rugby league and cricket, and the pollution has raised fears for player safety at Melbourne Park, with the tournament starting on Monday.

READ: Hot and dry Australia could join the ranks of 'climate refugees'

While Tennis Australia has said they were consulting experts, Victoria state's Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the governing body should establish a proper air quality policy along with its existing extreme heat policy to determine whether conditions are fit for play.

"They do have a heat policy, I think they need to plan out an air quality policy in the same way," he told local media.

"We're all trying to work out the best approach and there's no 'one size fits all'.

"You can't have a blanket solution, you need to look at the individual circumstances and what the alternatives are for protecting people."

Source: Agencies/jt(rw)