MELBOURNE: Fears of disruption to the Australian Open from bushfire smoke receded on Saturday but some players were clearly concerned about the conditions their colleagues were forced to play in earlier in the week. Victoria’s Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) rated the air quality in central Melbourne as “good” on Saturday morning and “moderate” in the afternoon, and the final round of qualifying was completed on schedule. That was in stark contrast to earlier rounds of the qualifying tournament on Tuesday and Wednesday when players complained of breathing problems and Slovenia’s Dalila Jakupovic was forced to retire after a coughing fit. Canada’s Denis Shapovalov said he would flat out refuse to go on court if forced to compete in poor air quality and believed other leading players at the tournament will similarly decline to risk their health. “I don’t want to risk my life, risk my health being out there playing in this condition when I can (play) for the next 10-15 years,” the 13th seed told reporters. “I think everyone’s kind of on the same page in terms of how it is. I don’t think anyone’s happy with the way things are being dealt with.” More than 100 bushfires were still burning in eastern Australia on Saturday despite storms now lashing many of the areas destroyed by the conflagrations that have killed 29 people and millions of animals since September.
Tournament chief Craig Tiley has staunchly defended the decision to continue play through the smog-filled days with only minor delays, and expressed full confidence in the systems in place to ensure the health of the players. The Air Quality Policy for the tournament was made public on Friday with its thresholds for suspending play, although the referee still maintains the ultimate discretion to keep the players on court.