But qualifying for the tournament began on outdoor courts Tuesday morning amid air quality that was designated “very poor,” the second-worst of six levels. Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority warned Melbourne’s citizens to stay indoors, and keep windows and door shut, and the state’s chief health officer called the city’s overnight air quality “the worst in the world.” Nevertheless, after a short delay because of the conditions, the players took the courts.
The results were unsurprising.
Dalila Jakupovic, a 28-year-old Slovenian trying to make the main draw, had to retire from her qualifying match against Stefanie Voegele after dropping to her knees in a coughing fit. Eugenie Bouchard, the 2014 Wimbledon finalist, needed medical assistance against You Xiaodi before winning a match that lasted almost three hours. She told medical personnel that it felt as if there were “spikes in her lungs,” and her opponent was so affected by the conditions that she hit only underarm serves in the third set. Bernard Tomic needed a medical timeout for breathing issues in his loss to Denis Kudla.
“I was really scared that I would collapse,” Jakupovic told the Australian Associated Press. “I never had breathing problems. I actually like heat. But … I just couldn’t breathe anymore and I just fell on the floor.”
“I think it was not fair because it’s not healthy for us,” she told the BBC. “I was surprised. I thought we would not be playing today but we really don’t have much choice.”
During a match between Blaz Kavcic and Jay Clarke, a ballkid received treatment after collapsing.
“Personally I don’t think qualifiers are treated the same way as the main draw players,” Britain’s Liam Broady said after losing his qualifying match against Ilya Ivashka. “I think that is the same at every tournament. Maybe we have to earn the right to be treated like the main draw players do but at the same time we are all human beings and there is no doubt that this is pretty bad for you to be running around in these conditions.”
Broady said he was “absolutely gassed” after just four games despite being “properly fit at the moment” and was “gasping for air” at one point during the match.
The main draw of the Australian Open begins Monday (Sunday night U.S. time). Apart from the three stadium courts that feature retractable roofs, there also are eight indoor courts at the National Tennis Centre, located next to Melbourne Park. But those courts are used for practice, and tournament officials have not yet said they will use them for tournament matches.
Much will depend on the direction of the wind and any precipitation that falls, and Wednesday’s forecast calls for the wind to shift direction, away from Melbourne.
“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,” the tournament said on its official Twitter account. “As always the health and safety of our players, our staff and our fans is our priority.”
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