A tennis player has abandoned her Australian Open qualifier mid-match after an intense coughing fit amid heavy bushfire smoke in Melbourne.
- Slovenian Dalila Jakupovic suffered a severe coughing fit on court and was forced to retire from play
- A Kooyong Classic game featuring Maria Sharapova has also been called off early
- Play was suspended for an hour this morning amid concerns hazardous smoke from Victoria’s bushfires could harm players’ health
Slovenian player Dalila Jakupovic was one set up in her match against Switzerland’s Stefanie Vogele when Jakupovic fell to her knees and started coughing heavily.
The world number 180 was spoken to by the umpire and officials before being escorted off the court and the game was called off.
“I was really scared that I would collapse. That’s why I went onto the floor because I couldn’t walk anymore,” Jakupovic said in a post-match press conference.
“I don’t have asthma and never had breathing problems. I actually like heat.
“The physio came again and I thought it would be better. But the points were a bit longer and I just couldn’t breathe anymore and I just fell on the floor.”
Jakupovic said it was “not fair” that officials asked players to take the court in those conditions.
“It’s not healthy for us. I was surprised, I thought we would not be playing today but we don’t have much choice,” she said.
Jakupovic’s retirement from the game comes amid earlier concerns about toxic air pollution in Melbourne today.
Just this morning, play was suspended for an hour at the qualifiers due to concerns the hazardous smoke from Victoria’s bushfires could harm players’ health.
Sharapova ‘felt like coughing’ before match cut short
This afternoon, an exhibition match for the Australian Open featuring top tennis player Maria Sharapova was abandoned near the end of the second set.
The Kooyong Classic game between Sharapova and Germany’s Laura Siegemund was at five-all when it was called off.
Speaking afterwards, Sharapova said she felt like coughing towards the end of play.
“We played over two hours and I actually started feeling a little bit of a cough coming out towards the end of the second set,” Sharapova said.
“I’ve been sick for a few weeks so I thought it was something to do with that.
“When I heard Laura [Siegemund] speak to the umpire and say she was struggling with it as well, I thought thankfully I’m not the only one.
“I think it was the right call by officials.”
A spokesperson for the Kooyong Classic said the game was finished early largely because of the heat — not smoke from Victoria’s bushfires.
Speaking at a press conference before both incidents, Tennis Australia’s chief executive Craig Tiley said the pollution had improved since this morning.
“This is a new experience for all of us,” he said.
Tennis Australia has installed special devices to monitor air quality for the Grand Slam event in Melbourne.
Tomic calls for medical timeout in qualifier loss
Bernard Tomic’s chances of qualification for the Australian Open main draw ended on Tuesday, after he too struggled with the conditions.
Tomic lost 7-6, 6-3 to American Denis Kudla on an uncovered court at Melbourne Park.
Early in the second set he called a medical timeout because he was having problems breathing.
The doctor asked if he had a history of asthma or other similar health concerns. Tomic said he had not, but added: “Well, it’s not like I’m the fittest guy ever.”
“I’m getting better as I slow down. If I don’t do anything I’ll get better … just the first set I couldn’t breathe,” he said.
After receiving an inhaler, Tomic was checked by the doctor and cleared to play on.
The Australian, who is currently ranked 183 in the world, then lost four of the next five games to bow out of qualifying.
No backup plan yet for tournament relocation
Tiley would not be drawn on if the organisation had a backup plan for moving the tournament to another location such as Canberra.
“The expectation because the long-term forecast and the short-term forecast, is good. and we’ll just take it a day at a time,” he said.
“The mitigating circumstances we’ve put in place is to protecting the health and wellbeing of the players, so we’ll make any decision that we need to make relative to that.”
Player Eugenie Bouchard also sought medical treatment earlier today, after complaining of a sore chest after the second set of her qualifying match against China’s You Xiaodi.
The Canadian later returned to court to defeat her opponent 4-6, 7-6, 6-1.
In a statement, Tennis Australia said conditions onsite were improving and were being constantly monitored.
“Further decisions will be made using onsite data and in close consultation with our medical team, the Bureau of Meteorology and scientists from EPA Victoria,” a spokesperson said.
Later on Tuesday afternoon, the Environment Protection Agency issued an air quality advice for Victoria for the next 24 hours.
“The North East, North Central, Gippsland, Central (including Melbourne) are likely to experience hazardous air quality on Tuesday evening and Wednesday.”
The EPA’s air quality controller Jason Choi told state radio the smoke would likely linger until Wednesday when afternoon showers were forecast.
Players ‘shocked’ that qualifiers are going ahead
A number of players who arrived in Melbourne ahead of the Grand Slam starting on Monday expressed surprise that organisers would allow qualifying to go ahead.
“Shocked to see that qualifying matches have started @AustralianOpen,” Luxembourg professional Mandy Minella, who is competing as a qualifier, tweeted.
“What about the health of all the people that have to work out there, especially the ballkids? #wherearethelimits?”
The pollution nonetheless prompted Racing Victoria (RV), the state’s governing body for thoroughbred racing, to scrap a race meeting at Werribee in Melbourne’s western suburbs, and for outdoor construction workers to down tools for the day.
The smoke haze was “unlikely to improve throughout the day making it unsuitable for racing”, RV tweeted.
Australian Open men’s champion Novak Djokovic expressed concern earlier this month that bushfire smoke might cause some health problems for players.
Tournament organisers said last week that play would be confined to Melbourne Park’s three roofed stadiums and eight indoor courts in the “unlikely case of extreme smoke conditions”.