A player has been forced to retire from an Australian Open qualifying match as a result of thick smoke blanketing Melbourne.
Slovenian Dalila Jakupovic was leading her round one Open qualifying match against Switzerland’s Stefanie Voegele when she collapsed to her knees with a coughing fit on Tuesday afternoon.
Ranked world number 180, Jakupovic was a set up and one point away from a tiebreak in the second set when she suffered the breathing difficulties and subsequently withdrew from the match.
The first day of qualifying was delayed and practice suspended as Melbourne’s air quality ranged from hazardous to poor on Tuesday morning.
Former world number Maria Sharapova also struggled in the heat and smoke, with her Kooyong Classic match called off late in the second set.
Taking on German Laura Siegemund in the Australian Open warm-up tournament, the players and officials decided to stop play at 5-5 in the second set.
The umpire said the conditions were behind the call to stop play after almost two and a half hours.
“Both players are feeling the smoke so we are going to stop the match at this point,” the umpire announced.
Play eventually got underway at 11am – an hour later than planned – after the city’s air was the worst quality in the world overnight because of the bushfires in the state’s east.
It’s an obvious concern with the world’s eyes set to be glued on Melbourne during the two-week championship from Monday when thousands of international and Australian tennis fans will also throng to the precinct.
Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley said when it became obvious smoke could have an impact, officials had to act for the welfare of all involved – players, fans and staff.
Officials say they will work with their medical team, the Bureau of Meteorology and Environment Protection Authority (EPA) scientists when making decisions about whether it’s healthy to play.
“This is a new experience for all of us in how we manage air quality so we have to listen to the experts,” Mr Tiley said.
“We have now real-time raw data that we can collect – we have installed measuring devices on-site for air quality.”
Tennis Australia’s chief operating officer Tom Larner said they would be treating any smoke stoppages in the same way as an extreme heat or rain delay.
“We will stop if conditions become unsafe based on medical advice,” he said.
Horse races at Werribee were also cancelled on Tuesday, as air quality at the tracks reached hazardous levels.
In a statement at midday, EPA Victoria listed the air quality in Melbourne’s CBD as “very poor” and warned that people may experience coughing or shortness of breath.
“Avoid being outside in the smoke or dust. Close your windows and doors to keep smoke and dust out of your home,” they said in a statement.
Earlier on Tuesday, the EPA’s website crashed after receiving a “significant amount of traffic”.