A player collapsed in a coughing fit and retired from Australian Open qualifying on Jan.14 as organizers faced a storm of criticism for plowing ahead with matches despite bushfire smoke plunging Melbournes air quality to “hazardous” levels.
Slovenias Dalila Jakupovic was leading Stefanie Vogele 6-4 5-6 at Melbourne Park when she slumped to her knees at the back of the blue hardcourt suffering from breathing difficulty.
Twenty-eight people have been killed and thousands made homeless in recent months as huge fires across the country have scorched 11.2 million hectares (27.7 million acres), nearly half the area of the United Kingdom.
Jakupovic, 28, told reporters she was fighting for breath.
“I never experienced something like this and I was really scared,” she said.
“I was scared that I would collapse. Thats why I went on the floor (of the court) because I couldnt walk anymore. When I was on the ground it was easier to get some air.”
Tournament director Craig Tiley defended the decision to proceed with qualifiers after they were initially delayed due to the poor air.
“During the period of when we suspended practice and restarted the matches there was an improvement in the conditions,” Tiley told reporters before Jakupovics retirement.
The pollution prompted warnings from Victoria states environment watchdog for people to stay indoors, bring pets inside, and shut windows.
A horse-racing meeting in the western suburbs was canceled and outdoor construction workers downed tools for the day, but governing body Tennis Australia said early on Tuesday that “conditions onsite (were) improving” at Melbourne Park.
Bushfire smoke has affected a number of elite sporting competitions involving soccer, rugby league, and cricket, and the pollution has raised safety fears at tenniss first Grand Slam of the year.
Pea Soup Haze
Players woke to a pea soup haze blanketing Melbourne, prompting Ukraines world number five Elina Svitolina to post a graphic on Twitter of Melbournes “Very Unhealthy” air measured by the World Air Quality Index.
— Elina Svitolina (@ElinaSvitolina) January 14, 2020
“Why do we need to wait for something bad to happen to do an action,” she tweeted.
Mens former world number six Gilles Simon posted a biting tweet about Australian Open (AO) organizers.
“When we find doctors who say that playing at 45 degrees is not dangerous at the AO and referees who say that the wet grass is not slippery at Wimbledon, we must be able to find an expert who certifies that the air quality is sufficient right?”