The Australian Open next week is in crisis after a player collapsed in qualifying due to the “unhealthy” air in Melbourne from ongoing bushfires, while Maria Sharapova has cut short an exhibition match.
Its quite unusual as the Australian Open is usually a cause for celebration with sunshine, vibrant crowds and eager athletes producing good vibes.
With bushfires raging across the state of Victoria, and air quality dropping to one of the worst in the world and reaching “very unhealthy” levels, heavy winds and soaring temperatures could cause havoc at the tennis season’s first grand slam as worries over the health of players have intensified.
Defending men’s tennis champion, Novak Djokovic, who is also the president of the ATP Player Council, suggested that delaying the tournament might have to be considered.
“You have to consider it. … if it comes down to … the conditions affecting the health of players, you have to consider it.” said Djokovic.
At Kooyong the match involving former world No 1 Maria Sharapova against Germany’s Laura Siegemund was called off after officials decided the smoke was creating unsafe conditions.
The possible option is that, all singles matches could potentially be played under cover as the Rod Laver, Margaret Court and Melbourne arenas all have retractable roofs, which are usually utilized in the case of extreme heat. However, a combined heat wave with smoky conditions would no doubt test those arenas to their limits.
As the athletes get ready to wow spectators on the courts, a number have already impressed outside the arenas by announcing fundraising efforts for emergency services battling the fires.
Locals Nick Kyrgios and Ash Barty have led the way, with Kygrios pledging $200 for each ace he serves across the Australian summer.
Last year’s Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic, along with Maria Sharapova, also donated a whopping $25,000 AUD, while Tennis Australia announced a “Rally for Relief” exhibition match on Rod Laver Arena for January 15.
By Gerald Dandah