The smoke from wildfires across Victoria and New South Wales in southeast Australia have enveloped Melbourne, threatening the Australian Open, tennis’ first grand slam event of the year scheduled to being next week. Haze and smoke from the deadly bushfires created “hazardous” air quality in the city, prompting city officials to advise locals to “stay indoors, keep windows and doors shut, and stay inside.” Practice sessions ahead of the Open were suspended, but the qualifying tournament for the final spots in the main draw carried on after a brief delay. When play did get underway at Melbourne Park however, players complained of breathing difficulties, and Slovenian Dalila Jakupovic, the 180th ranked woman in the world, doubled over due to extreme breathing difficulties and was forced to retire midway through her qualifying match.
Jakupovic was up a set in her match against Switzerland’s Stefanie Vögele Tuesday when she started coughing uncontrollably and fell to her knees at the baseline. After the match, Jakupovic said didn’t have a history of respiratory problems, but warming up for the match alone felt “like an asthma attack.” “I was really scared that I would collapse. That’s why I went onto the floor because I couldn’t walk anymore,” she said of her match. “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.”
Playing nearby, Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, a former Wimbledon finalist, was forced to call several medical timeouts, complaining of chest pains and the feeling of “spikes in her lungs” as she grappled with the poor air. “I felt like it was tough to breathe and a bit nauseous,” Bouchard said. “As an athlete we want to be very careful, our physical health is one of the most important things. It’s not ideal to play in these conditions. Just like the heat rule, there should be an air quality rule.”
“I think it was not fair because it’s not healthy for us,” Jakupovic said after being unable to continue. Another player was forced to use an inhaler due to breathing problems. Fifth-ranked Elina Svitolina of Ukraine tweeted: “why do we need to wait for something bad to happen to do an action?”