Angry players speak out at smoke-shrouded Australian Open qualifiers

Health official calls for air quality policy for tennis as bushfires continue

A view of smoke haze at Melbourne Park where organisers of the Australian Open tennis tournament announced a suspension of practice sessions and a delay of the start of qualifying matches due to the conditions. Photograph: EPA

A view of smoke haze at Melbourne Park where organisers of the Australian Open tennis tournament announced a suspension of practice sessions and a delay of the start of qualifying matches due to the conditions. Photograph: EPA

 

Tempers flared at the Australian Open qualifying on Wednesday as players battled through another day of smoky air and two of the game’s all-time greats were labelled “selfish” for not protesting about the conditions.

Qualifying was disrupted for a second successive day, firstly by bushfire smoke and later by a torrential rain storm which cleared the air but put an end to play at Melbourne Park.

Tournament organisers have been under fire for ploughing ahead with the qualifiers after an initial delay on Tuesday, with players complaining of breathing difficulties and one forced to retire from a match after suffering a coughing fit.

The ill will spilled over into Wednesday, with Canadian world number 103 Brayden Schnur taking aim at 20-times Grand Slam champion Roger Federer and world number one Rafa Nadal for not taking a vocal stand for the lower-profile players in qualifying.

“It’s got to come from the top guys - Roger and Rafa are a little bit selfish in thinking about themselves and their careers,” Schnur told Australian Associated Press after winning his qualifier against Austrian Sebastian Ofner.

“Because they’re near the end and all they’re thinking about is their legacy and they’re not thinking about the sport itself and trying to do what’s good for the sport - so those guys need to step up.”

Schnur said he felt “super dryness” in his throat and that conditions were “100 percent not normal”.

“They’re just trying to shove us on the court because we’re qualifiers.”

France’s Nicolas Mahut posted a picture of himself wearing a mask over his mouth and nose with the caption: “Ready for my first round.”

Canada’s Vasek Pospisil, a member of the ATP Player Council, tweeted: “It’s time for a players’ union. This is getting absurd.”

Australia is experiencing one of its worst bushfire seasons on record, with fires burning for months and killing 28 people, destroying more than 2,500 homes and razing forests and farmland the size of Bulgaria.

Tennis Australia said it would continue to monitor on-site data and consult their medical team, the local bureau of meteorology and government scientists to determine whether conditions were fit for play.

Scheduled horse race meetings in two separate Melbourne suburbs were also cancelled on Wednesday, governing body Racing Victoria said, “due to smoke haze and poor air quality”.

Bushfire smoke has affected a number of Australia’s elite sporting competitions including soccer, rugby league and cricket.

Victoria state’s chief health officer, Brett Sutton, said Tennis Australia needed to establish a proper air quality policy alongside its existing extreme heat policy.

“They do have a heat policy, I think they need to plan out an air quality policy in the same way,” he told media.

“You can’t have a blanket solution, you need to look at the individual circumstances and what the alternatives are for protecting people.”

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