Australia’s horrific bushfires have taken their toll on this year’s Australian Open with one player collapsing on court during a qualifying match.
Dalila Jakupovic went over when playing against Switzerland’s Stefanie Voegel and was helped off the court in Melbourne with breathing difficulties.
The Slovenian was in a good position to win the match but had to withdraw due to being unable to cope with the conditions any longer.
The 28-year-old later said she was ‘sad and angry’ after recovering and admitted to feeling ‘scared’ as she struggled to breathe.
She said: “It was really bad. I never experienced something like this and I was really scared. I was scared that I would collapse.
“That’s why I went on the floor. Because I couldn’t walk any more. I’ve never had asthma before.
“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. It would maybe have been better to wait to see if tomorrow is better. They still have time, there is no rush.”
Tennis Australia insist its on-site experts had declared the playing environment at Melbourne Park safe enough.
Other players had issues including Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard, who left the court during a match against Chinese player You Xiaodi after complaining of a sore chest.
Bouchard returned to play the final set following the medical timeout and went on to win 4-6 7-6 6-1.
Practice sessions were temporarily suspended for the tournament early on Tuesday due to haze caused by the fires.
A statement from Australian Open organisers read: “Further decisions will be made based on onsite data, and in close consultation with our medical team, the Bureau of Meteorology and scientists from EPA Victoria.
“As always the health and safety of our players, our staff and our fans is our priority.”
British no.6 Liam Broady, who lost 6-3 6-0 to Belarus’ Ilya Ivashka, was another who struggled with the conditions.
Broady said: “I would like to think I am properly fit at the moment and after four games I was absolutely gassed.
“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.
“This morning it was obviously pretty bad. I warmed up and then I was most surprised by how bad it still was when I was walking out to the court.
“I had been inside from 10 o’clock for three hours and, because they had decided to go ahead, I thought it would have cleared up a lot. You can hardly see the city buildings over there. It is pretty bad.”
Maria Sharapova and German Laura Siegmund also abandoned their matches in the second set while competing at nearby exhibition tournament in Kooyong due to conditions.
The wildfires have been raging for months in both Victoria, where Melbourne is located, and the neighbouring state of New South Wales, leading to Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority warning air quality in the state would range from moderate to hazardous.
Tournament director Craig Tiley said last week he was hopeful the tournament would go ahead but vowed to closely monitor the air quality.
He said: “We have committed substantial extra resources to analysis, monitoring and logistics to ensure the health and safety of all players, staff and fans throughout the summer and have no other plans to move events (following the cancellation of an event in Australia’s capital Canberra).
“Assessing the likelihood of smoke-induced interruptions is a bit like how we treat heat and rain.
“We have experts who analyse all available live data as specific to our sites as possible and consult regularly with tournament officials and, in the case of heat and smoke, medical experts.
“We have access to real-time monitoring of air quality at all of our venues and are working closely with medical personnel and local experts onsite to ensure we have the best possible information available to make any decisions regarding whether play should be halted at any point.
“The health of players, fans and staff is a priority at all times and we will continue to make these decisions with that in mind.”
The Australian Open tournament proper is due to start on Monday January 20.
Source: TalkSport.com Tennis