MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – Qualifying rounds for the Australian Open were postponed on Wednesday as the toxic smoke from widespread bushfires further clogged Melbourne and plunged the Grand Slam schedule into chaos.
The decision to suspend the action was heavily criticized when the players were hit by dangerous conditions after being allowed to play on Tuesday.
A qualifier dropped out with breathing difficulties and the Canadian Eugenie Bouchard needed medical attention, although all other games were over.
“Conditions at Melbourne Park are constantly monitored,” said Tennis Australia.
Further decisions will be made based on the data on site in consultation with the tournament medical team, the Bureau of Meteorology and scientists from the Victorian Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA-listed Melbourne air quality, which is usually classified as one of the most livable cities in the world, is rated “very poor” at 9:00 am, but not at the “dangerous” level registered on Tuesday.
Very bad means that the air is likely to be smoky or dusty and that people may experience coughing or shortness of breath.
“The EPA advises people in smoke-prone areas to be careful, to stay away from smoke as much as possible and to limit exposure.”
Some relief could be on the way. The Bureau of Meteorology said Victoria was expected to experience thunderstorms and wind changes later Wednesday that could clear the air.
The worsening conditions followed months of deadly bush fires that ravaged huge parts of the Australian landscape and killed at least 27 people and destroyed more than 2,000 houses.
Qualifying for the first Grand Slam of the year, which was due to start next week, started an hour later on Tuesday and Slovenian Dalila Jakupovic was not doing well.
She ended her game against Swiss Stefanie Voegele early after a coughing fit and said: “I was very afraid that I might collapse.”
Former Australian Open semi finalist Bouchard also had problems and needed a medical break after complaining of an aching chest.
She sympathized with the organizers, but said that “only one line has to be in the sand”.
“As with the heat rule, there should be an air quality rule,” she told reporters. “Maybe this tournament will help get this going.”
Other players, including number 5 in the world, Elina Svitolina, have qualified for the qualification.
“Why do we have to wait until something bad happens to do something,” she tweeted.
Despite the conditions, the organizers said the Grand Slam was unlikely to be delayed.
Even if the smoke repeats itself this week, they have pointed out that there are three covered stadiums and eight other indoor courts in Melbourne Park where the game can continue.
Any smoke hazards are treated similarly to extreme heat and rain, and referees could interrupt the game if it is considered too dangerous to continue, they added.
A fundraising exhibition game on Wednesday night with Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal and others to raise money to fight bushfires will not be affected as it will take place with the roof closed at the Rod Laver Arena.