'Entire city is choking': Australian Open qualifying delayed by 'hazardous' bushfire smoke

Sam Goodwin
Sports Editor

Australian Open tennis organisers have been forced to suspend practice and postpone the start of the qualifying tournament as heavy smoke from Victoria's bushfires blankets Melbourne Park.

The new start time on the opening day of qualifying for next week's grand slam event was moved to 11am, after practice was temporarily halted on Tuesday morning due to the poor air quality.

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"Conditions onsite are improving and are being constantly monitored," a Tennis Australia statement read.

"Further decisions will be made using onsite data and in consultation with our medical team, the Bureau of Meterology and scientists from the EPA.

"As always the health and safety of our players, our staff and our fans is our priority."

A photo of the smoke blanketing Melbourne. Image: Stephanie Ferrier/Twitter

Melbourne’s air quality was reportedly rated the second-worst in the world on Monday night.

American player Noah Rubin took to Twitter on Tuesday morning to say he hadn’t received any information from officials about how to proceed, describing the situation as ‘scary’.

“Morning of first round of qualies here in Melbourne and not even a single email has been received about air quality,” he wrote.

“Maybe an over reaction but the lack of information on how to proceed is scary.”

Footy writer Rohan Connolly warned Melburnians not to underestimate the situation, saying he’d walked through the CBD on Monday night and was still struggling.

Photos of the smoke blanketing Melbourne flooded social media.

Twenty-two Australians are taking part in qualifying, including former world No.17 Bernard Tomic.

Currently the world No.182, the fallen star will play American Denis Kudla later on Tuesday.

Tomic recorded just seven wins at ATP level in 2019 - none at the slams - and hasn't played a tournament since a first-round loss to Dan Evans in Stockholm in October.

How will the Australian Open be affected?

Blazes across the country have torched about 80,000 square kilometres of land, sending air pollution soaring.

Melbourne hasn't been as badly affected by pollution as Sydney or Canberra, but thick haze last week prompted speculation that the Australian Open could be delayed.

However, Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley said the tournament should go ahead as expected.

"All the information we have at the moment, with qualifying coming up next week, is that the forecast is good, we don't expect any delays and we've implemented additional measures to ensure the Australian Open will be able to run as scheduled," Tiley said.

Noah Rubin in action at Wimbledon in 2019. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Fires are still burning in Victoria and could continue throughout the tournament, with huge blazes to the host city's east.

"It is going to depend on the prevailing winds and whether we have ongoing fires," Christine Jenkins, professor of respiratory medicine at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, told AFP.

"It's still an open question just whether or not we could still have further periods of intense pollution."

Jenkins said that so far, Melbourne hasn't seen pollution bad enough to postpone the tournament.

"(But) there is very definitely the threat of fire that could cause significant air pollution in Melbourne if things get worse at any point," she said.

with agencies