How are the players feeling about the weeks ahead and the challenges they may face?
During Tuesday’s qualifiers, smoke and hazy conditions at Melbourne Park affected the players, with organizers criticized for allowing matches to proceed. The start of qualifying was delayed by an hour due to the smoky haze, but practice sessions were canceled.
A number of players complained, including Australian Bernard Tomic, who sought medical treatment during his first-round loss when he struggled to breathe. Slovenia’s Dalila Jakupovic said she feared she would pass out before retiring from her match when she collapsed to her knees with a coughing spell.
“I was really scared that I would collapse,” Jakupovic said. “That’s why I went onto the floor, because I couldn’t walk anymore.
“I don’t have asthma and never had breathing problems.”
Qualifier Noah Rubin tweeted a screenshot of the AQI for Melbourne showing a value of 559. Maria Sharapova and Laura Siegemund had to quit in the middle of their exhibition match at nearby Kooying.
On Wednesday, Australian Open officials delayed play by three hours during qualifiers, but the air quality index was still graded as “unhealthy” when the players took to the court due to the smoke.
Canadian world No. 103 Brayden Schnur, the third seed in the qualifying tournament, was critical of officials after his first-round win over Austrian Sebastian Ofner, which took more than two hours in the hazy conditions on Wednesday.
“You feel super dryness in your throat,” Schnur said. “That’s 100 percent not normal, and players who have asthma are at a huge disadvantage right now.”
On Thursday, British tennis player Liam Broady accused Australian Open officials of treating qualifiers worse than animals as calls grow among players to form a union.
We can’t let this go. @VasekPospisil @DreddyTennis @Jay27798 @sventennis @hotdog6969 @GBtennis @NaomiBroady pic.twitter.com/KYxSW2kP2I
– Liam Broady (@Liambroady) January 15, 2020
Canadian player Vasek Pospisil said the situation was “absurd” and it was “time for a players’ union.”
Tiley addressed the criticism from players on Thursday, saying: “Our medical team were satisfied with the conditions that the players were competing in [in qualifying], per all of the research and the data and the science that they have.
“But they also make an assessment. You could have been two hours into those matches and have 25 people presenting themselves with a medical condition that may be related to the pollutants.
“If that’s the case, inform me, and we stop.”
Despite the concerns, many of the top tennis players have vowed to support Australians suffering because of the bushfires.
Nick Kyrgios got the ball rolling when he pledged to donate $140 (U.S.) for every ace he hit during the ATP Cup. Scores of ATP and WTA players followed suit. Serena Williams donated her $43,000 ASB Classic winner’s check to Australian wildfires victims. The ATP donated $725,000 on behalf of the players, and the ITF will contribute an additional $400,000.
Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Kyrgios, Williams and others took part in a Rally for Relief bushfire charity exhibition at Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday night that, according to Tennis Australia, raised nearly $3.5 million for the bushfire relief effort. The event drew a capacity crowd of more than 15,000. During the event, Nadal announced that he and Federer would combine to donate $250,000. But despite the drive to support the bushfire victims, Federer and Nadal faced criticism from Schnur for failing to step up and protest against playing conditions during qualifying.
“Roger and Rafa are a little bit selfish in thinking about themselves and their careers,” Schnur said, “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.”
Information from AAP and Reuters contributed to this report.