The start of Australian Open qualifying has been disrupted by the effects of smoke from regional bushfires, with several players complaining about the conditions.
Air quality in Melbourne had fallen to levels officially considered 'hazardous' around midnight, fuelled by wind and cooler temperatures, and was still being announced as 'very poor' before the scheduled 10 a.m. start of qualifying at Melbourne Park.
Matches were pushed back by an hour and play had been underway for a few hours before conditions again deteriorated, creating difficulties for some players.
The most notable was the retirement of Dalila Jakupovic, who stopped play at 6-4, 5-6 in her first round qualifying encounter. The Slovenian began coughing and dropped to her knees before deciding to stop play.
"It was really bad. I never experienced something like this and I was really scared. I was scared that I would collapse," she was quoted as telling press. "That’s why I went on the floor. Because I couldn’t walk any more. And I couldn’t stretch myself. When I was on the ground it was easier to get some air.
"I think it was not fair because it's not healthy for us. I was surprised. I thought we would not be playing today. We don't have much choice. If we don't go on the court, maybe we get fined."
Other players also appeared to have problems, including Eugenie Bouchard, Bernard Tomic and Liam Broady—all noted that that player endurance was affected.
"At 6-3, 3-0 down, when you are supposed to be relatively fresh, I was bent double and gasping for air. My fitness is one of the best parts of my game but I definitely didn't feel great," said Broady.
"I'm getting tired so easy," said Tomic on court, getting an inhaler from the trainer.
"No cough, just heavy air, a bit tough to breathe and a long, tough point I felt I couldn't breathe well," said Bouchard.
An exhibition between Maria Sharapova and Laura Seigemund at Kooyong was stopped in the second set, but officials did not halt play at Melbourne Park.
Some players objected on social media, and Broady and Noah Rubin questioned if top-ranked players would be asked to compete in such conditions.
Have you thought about the consequences of our health?? On the long term?? @AustralianOpen— Kirsten Flipkens (@FlipperKF) January 14, 2020
"This is a new experience for all of us," said Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley, adding that the event had air quality monitoring devices on site and had started play on the ''independent advice of medical experts," "environmental specialists," and "the bureau of meteorology.''
The tournament has not changed its policy based on the day's events.
Playing conditions are expected to improve for the second day of qualifying in Melbourne.