'Shameful day for tennis': World in shock over 'awful' Australian Open drama

·Sports Editor

Australian Open officials have again been forced to delay the start of qualifying matches as they wait for smoke from the Victorian bushfires hanging over Melbourne to clear sufficiently.

The first matches on court on Wednesday were pushed back until 1pm, three hours later than the original start time and practice was suspended until 11am.

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Conditions at Melbourne Park weren’t forecast to improve until late on Wednesday, after it plagued the opening day's play when organisers were heavily criticised for allowing matches to proceed.

The tennis world reacted with shock and anger after a number of players were affected by the hazardous smoke on Tuesday.

Slovenia's Dalila Jakupovic feared she would pass out with the smoky conditions the worst she's experienced.

Dalila Jakupovic and Bernard Tomic, pictured here during Australian Open qualifying.
Dalila Jakupovic and Bernard Tomic were affected. Image: ESPN/Getty

The world no.180 was forced to retire mid-match at Melbourne Park on Tuesday due to the hazardous smoke lingering from bushfires in Victoria's east.

Jakupovic was leading her round one Open qualifying match against Switzerland's Stefanie Voegele when she collapsed to her knees with a coughing fit.

"I was really scared that I would collapse. That's why I went onto the floor because I couldn't walk anymore," Jakupovic said.

"I don't have asthma and never had breathing problems. I actually like heat.

"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."

The 28-year-old said she was having chest pains during practice, with the first day of qualifying delayed and practice suspended as Melbourne's air quality ranged from hazardous to poor.

Play eventually got underway at 11am - an hour later than scheduled - after the city's air was declared the worst quality in the world overnight.

Dalila Jakupovic, pictured here after collapsing at the Australian Open.
Dalila Jakupovic collapsed. Image: ESPN

An angry Jakupovic said it was "not fair" that officials asked players to take the court in those conditions.

"It's not healthy for us. I was surprised, I thought we would not be playing today but we don't have much choice," she said.

Former Wimbeldon finalist Eugenie Bouchard called multiple medical timeouts in the oppressive conditions as she survived to defeat China's Xiaodi You.

Her opponent also asked for medical assistance from the trainer and began regularly serving underarm in the third set.

Bouchard said she would train indoors on Wednesday because it wasn't "worth going outside" following her gruelling three-hour encounter.

"I felt like it was tough to breathe and a bit nauseous," Bouchard said.

"I felt like the conditions got worse as the match went on...but I was out there for a long time.

"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."

Bernard Tomic caught in the drama

Bernard Tomic's hope of resurrecting his tennis career at the Australian Open are in tatters after his first-round exit in qualifying.

Struggling with breathing issues, the former world No.17 was dismissed by seventh-seeded American Denis Kudla in straight sets 7-6 (7-4) 6-3.

His match got off to a promising start on Tuesday, but the 27-year-old slowly began to wilt.

He called for a medic at 1-2 in the second set, saying he was having difficulty breathing.

"I just can't breathe," Tomic was heard to say.

The doctor gave him an inhaler and checked his chest with a stethoscope, before clearing him to resume.

But the Queenslander was unable to hold his serve and went down 1-3 which spelled the end of his challenge.

Bernard Tomic, pictured here during Australian Open qualifying.
Bernard Tomic was seriously struggling. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

Issues at Kooyong Classic as well

Former world No.1 Maria Sharapova says smoke was behind the decision to call off her Kooyong Classic match late in the second set when she started to succumb to the tough conditions.

Taking on German Laura Siegemund in the Australian Open warm-up exhibition tournament, the players and officials decided to stop play at 5-5 in the second set.

World No.72 Siegemund had won the first set 7-6 (7-4).

Sharapova said she felt a cough coming on as the match stretched past two hours with temperatures on court around 40 degrees.

"I started feeling a cough coming toward the end of the second set but I've been sick for a few weeks so I thought that had something to do with it," Sharapova told SBS after the match.

"But then I heard Laura speak to the umpire and she said she was struggling with it as well.

"We were out there for over two hours so from a health stand point it's the right call from officials."

Maria Sharapova and Laura Siegemund, pictured here during their match at the Kooyong Classic.
Maria Sharapova and Laura Siegemund called off their match. (Photo by WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images)

World reacts to ‘shameful’ scenes

Elina Svitolina and Steve Darcis were among a number of players who reacted angrily to the decision to allow play on Tuesday.

“Why do we need to wait for something bad to happen to [take] action,” Svitolina said on Twitter.

However the most scathing reaction came from British writer Stuart Fraser.

“With players visibly gasping for air on court yesterday, it is unfathomable that organisers — no doubt sitting in the comfort of an airconditioned office behind the scenes — allowed play to continue,” Fraser wrote in the UK Times.

“Another alarming oversight was the failure to arrange P2 face masks — which can filter out fine particles in smoke — for the ball kids, umpires and line judges who were standing outside for hours.

“This was a shameful day for tennis but one which had been brewing because of the incompetence of the sport’s officials to fully grasp the health issues that bushfire smoke can cause.

“Let us hope that the same mistake is not repeated in the coming weeks.”

Simon Briggs of the UK Daily Telegraph said it was unbelievable that so many matches finished, let alone started.

“Within a few minutes of leaving your room, it has coated your lungs with grit, and abraded your windpipe. Your eyes sting and water, making you wonder what kind of hell it must be to actually live in a fire zone, rather than receiving the diluted product some 400 miles away,” he wrote.

“This is not weather for sport, nor for watching sport.

“You only have to be out in it for a few minutes before the airways tighten up. The remarkable thing about Tuesday was not that one player was forced to stop because she felt unable to breathe, but that everyone else managed to struggle through to the end.”

The drama made headlines around the world, with CNN, the New York Times and UK Times splashing the awful images on their websites.

With only six days until the two-week championship begins, the world's eyes will be glued on Melbourne when thousands of international visitors converge on the precinct.

Health authorities expect the air quality to bounce between the "very poor to hazardous range" until at least Wednesday night.

Tennis Australia says it will work with their medical team, the Bureau of Meterology and Environment Protection Authority Victoria scientists when making decisions about whether it's safe to play.

"This is a new experience for all of us in how we manage air quality, so we have to listen to the experts," TA boss Craig Tiley said earlier on Tuesday.

"We have installed measuring devices on-site for air quality."

TA chief operating officer Tom Larner said any smoke stoppages would be treated in the same way as an extreme heat or rain delay.

"We will stop if conditions become unsafe based on medical advice," he said.

Novak Djokovic spoke out about the situation last week, saying organisers will be forced to create new rules to deal with smoke.

with AAP

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