Australian Open 2020: 'Makes my blood boil,' players angry as qualifying continues despite hazardous air quality in Melbourne

Australia has been battling its worst bushfire season on record, with fires burning for months killing 29 people, and destroying more than 2,500 homes while razing bushland across an area the size of Bulgaria.

FP Sports January 16, 2020 13:07:53 IST
Australian Open 2020: 'Makes my blood boil,' players angry as qualifying continues despite hazardous air quality in Melbourne
  • Air quality in Melbourne was described as "hazardous" by city authorities following months of bushfires that have devastated huge parts of the country.

  • Absurdly, it was recommended that people and pets stay indoors, but qualifying for Australian Open went ahead regardless.

  • Slovenia's Dalila Jakupovic was forced to retire while playing her match after a distressing coughing fit, saying she was "really scared that I would collapse".

Australian Open authorities have come under severe criticism for their decision to keep the play in qualifying going despite poor air quality in Melbourne. Britain's Liam Broady has been the latest voice to suggest the formation of a player's union of a sort with the first grand slam of the year to go ahead as scheduled despite toxic smoke from bushfires hurting players.

Air quality in Melbourne was described as "hazardous" by city authorities following months of bushfires that have devastated huge parts of the country.

Absurdly, it was recommended that people and pets stay indoors, but qualifying for Australian Open went ahead regardless.

"The more I think about the conditions we played in a few days ago the more it boils my blood," Broady wrote in a note shared on Twitter. He called an email from ATP and Australian Open organisers, defending the decision to go ahead with qualifying, "a slap in the face."

"We can't let this slide. The email we received yesterday ... was a slap in the face, conditions were 'playable'. Were they 'healthy'?" he said.

"Citizens of Melbourne were warned to keep their animals indoors the day I played qualifying, and yet we were expected to go outside for high intensity physical competition?"

"What do we have to do to create a players union? Where is the protection for players, both male and female?"

Slovenia's Dalila Jakupovic was forced to retire while playing her match after a distressing coughing fit, saying she was "really scared that I would collapse".

Other players suffered too, with world number 234 Broady claiming "multiple" players needed asthma medication, despite never having suffered from the ailment before. One of them, by his own admission, being Germany's Dustin Brown.

"I have a virus coming on' I was told by the doctor on court... In 35 years, its [it's] the 1st [first] time I had 2 [to] use an asthma spray 2 [to] help me breathe better...," he wrote.

Canada's former World No. 25 Vasek Pospisil, who has dropped in the rankings after back surgery, also got on board, tweeting: "We won't let it go."

Mandy Minella, World No 140 from Luxembourg, has previously said she was "shocked" that qualifying took place. She went on to suggest a solution: "I don’t understand why they rush to play today. You have the whole Saturday and Sunday to finish qualies (qualifying) and if it’s really bad we are used to play [playing] 2 matches a day aswell [as well] and in the worst case we can shorten the mens to best of 3. There are solutions!!"

Four-time Grand Slam champion Kim Clijsters, on the comeback trail to tour, believes it is impossible to ignore air quality issues heading into next week’s Australian Open and urged organisers to make player health a top priority.

“If it’s not possible to play in then what’s the point?” former world number one Clijsters told the BBC. “If you can’t play and bring good tennis and be fit enough to play two hours, or even the guys 4-5 hours in this environment. You can’t avoid or ignore it.

“They have delayed (qualifying) matches, but it’s not going to solve the air quality.”

“On the center and show courts there is not an issue - they can close the roof and they can have the ventilation on, but on the outside courts... you can’t play a whole event just on a few show courts that have a roof.

“If I would have been there, I think I would have been very vocal and at least talk to the board and the tournament directors to try to think about solutions.”

Canada's World No. 103 Brayden Schnur called out 20-times Grand Slam champion Roger Federer and top-ranked Rafael Nadal for not taking a vocal stand for the lower-profile players in qualifying. He clarified his statement on Thursday.

Chief of Tennis Australia Craig Tiley said decisions on whether to play were made after consultations with their medical team, the Bureau of Meteorology and Environment Protection Authority Victoria scientists.

"This is a new experience for all of us in how we manage air quality, so we have to listen to the experts," he told reporters on Tuesday.

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