Australian Open qualifying begins despite poor air quality from wildfires

One player was forced to withdraw from the tennis tournament because she couldn’t breathe

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) - Qualifying for the Australian Open got underway after the air quality improved from “hazardous” in the early morning to “very poor” before noon.

Smoke haze and poor air quality from wildfires has caused problems for players in practice and qualifying for the Australian Open, leading Slovenia’s Dalila Jakupovic to withdraw.

She was leading when she retired from from her first-round qualifier on Tuesday because of breathing difficulties.

She described not being able to breathe during the match.

“... So I just went down because I couldn’t stand up to be to be straight because I just couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t have a deep breath. So after that, I also got a panic attack because I couldn’t get some air. So was was very, very hard, I have to say, was one of the hardest matches I had, actually,” Jakupovic said.

Tennis Australia said further decisions on the state of play at Melbourne Park would be made in consultation with its medical team and scientists from the Environmental Protection Agency.

At the Kooyong Classic, former world No. 1 Maria Sharapova struggled in the heat and smoke and her match against Laura Siegemund before it was called off. Officials decided to stop play at 5-5 in the second set. Siegemund won the first set.

Players complained about the health impacts of playing in the haze that has enveloped Melbourne.

Winds have push the smoke from devastating wildfires over the southeast of the country. Climate experts recommend playing the tournament indoors or delaying it.

Conditions are expected to improve before the first tennis major of the season starts on Monday. But scientists are warning this could be the new normal for Australia, and urged organizers to consider alternative plans.

World No. 5 Elina Svitolina took to Twitter, asking “Why do we need to wait for something bad to happen to do an action.”

Copyright 2020 Associated Press. All rights reserved. Gray Media Group, Inc., contributed to this report.