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Melbourne’s poor air quality impacts Australian Open qualifier event

Melbourne’s poor air quality impacts Australian Open qualifier event
January 14, 2020

The safety of players at this year’s Australian Open is an increasing cause for concern after a day of poor air quality in Melbourne forced the abandonment of the former world No 1 Maria Sharapova’s match in a warm-up event at Kooyong.

Another player, Dalila Jakupovic, collapsed on court at Melbourne Park and was forced to retire midway through her qualifying match when she suffered a coughing fit.

The match had been given approval to get underway by tournament organisers after the day’s play had initially been delayed for an hour due to the blanket of bushfire smoke enveloping Melbourne.

Jakupovic, who was looking to qualify for the main draw of the tournament which is slated to start on Monday, was one set up in her match against Switzerland’s Stefanie Vögele when she fell to her knees on court. Suffering breathing difficulties, the world No 180 withdrew.

She later said she had no previous respiratory issues and had never suffered from asthma, advising “I was really scared that I would collapse. That’s why I went onto the floor because I couldn’t walk any more.

“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 any more and I just fell on the floor.”

Jakupovic was critical of officials for allowing the match to go ahead, saying it was “not fair” and adding “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, the former Wimbledon finalist, also struggled in her opening match and called several medical timeouts during the eventual win over China’s Xiaodi You.

As reported by Guardian Australia, she advised “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. As an athlete we want to be very careful, our physical health is one of the most important things. It’s not ideal to play in these conditions. Just like the heat rule, there should be an air quality rule.”

At Kooyong, Sharapova said smoke from the bushfires still burning in Victoria and NSW was behind the decision to call time on her match late in the second set against Germany’s Laura Siegemund.

Organisers of the tournament in the inner Melbourne suburb pulled the plug on play with Siegemund a set up and the score locked at 5-5 in the second, as the city was enveloped in a smoke haze and was rated in the morning as having the worst air quality in the world.

Earlier, practice at Melbourne Park had been suspended and the start of the first round of qualifying delayed by an hour due to the poor air quality. However, tournament organisers deemed it safe enough to start at 11am local time, once they said the air quality had sufficiently improved.

Australian Open Tournament Director, Craig Tiley stated "this morning the smoke haze was significant.

“And based on advice we made the decision to suspend practice and as a result to start the qualifying matches an hour later than originally scheduled. At any time we’re not going to put them (players and staff) in harm’s way or make any decision that’s going to negatively impact their health and wellbeing.”

Tom Larner, Tennis Australia’s Chief Operating Officer, indicated the situation was comparable to other delays caused by atmospheric conditions, such as extreme heat, or rain.

As quoted by Guardian Australia, Larner stated “we’re treating any suspension of play like a rain delay or a heat delay, in that we will stop if conditions become unsafe based on medical advice, and once those conditions are safe to play, players will get back on court.”

Tuesday’s delay lasted only one hour, as, according to Tiley, “during the period in which we suspended practice there was an improvement in conditions”. The suspension, and subsequent resumption of play was based on air quality measurements taken on-site using devices sourced specifically for this eventually, as well as advice from tournament medical staff.

Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority issued a warning on Monday evening that conditions in Melbourne on Tuesday would be poor to hazardous as a consequence of the bushfires raging across the south east of the country.

Earlier this month poor air quality saw the Canberra International Challenger event relocate to Bendigo.

Middle image shows haze over central Melbourne last week.

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