Concerns have been raised on the opening qualifying day at the 2020 Australian Open over unhealthy and hazardous conditions, after several players experienced breathing difficulties during their matches on Tuesday.
Slovenian Dalila Jakupovic was even forced to retire midway through her qualifying match after suffering a coughing fit on the court.
Jakupovic, who was one set up against Switzerland’s Stefanie Vögele, fell to her knees, struggling to breathe at the end of the second set.
Despite having a good chance of winning the match, the world number 180 withdrew, saying that the playing conditions in Australia are not “healthy.”
Awful scenes in Melbourne.
— ESPN Australia & NZ (@ESPNAusNZ) January 14, 2020
“It was really bad. I never experienced something like this,” Jakupovic said. “I was really scared I would collapse because I couldn’t walk anymore.”
Commenting on the organizers’ decision to make the players compete amid the stifling heat and smoke from the bushfires, Jakupovic said, “it was not fair.”
“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,” she said.
— Elina Svitolina (@ElinaSvitolina) January 14, 2020
Former Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard also complained about the poor air quality, which she claimed only worsened during the match.
“I felt like it was tough to breathe and a bit nauseous,” Bouchard said. “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.”
— Kathy Mak (@KathyMaky) January 14, 2020
Australian Bernard Tomic was also affected by the smoke as he called a medical timeout due to breathing difficulties before being eliminated by American Denis Kudla.
Maria Sharapova’s exhibition match in Kooyong was called off due to smoke from the devastating bushfires.
— AstroKerrie ✞🎃 (@Astrokerrie) January 13, 2020
On Tuesday, the Australian Open organizers delayed the start of the first round qualifying matches by an hour due to the air. However, all scheduled matches were allowed to be played at 11am local time after the organizers said the “air quality had sufficiently improved.”
#AusOpen practice was temporarily suspended this morning due to poor air quality.
Qualifying matches will begin at 11am.
Conditions onsite are improving and we are monitoring them constantly.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 13, 2020
The decision to play in the smoky conditions was criticized by fans and players, who lambasted the tournament bosses for putting the players’ health at risk.