World number two Novak Djokovic has called for Australian Open organisers to consider delaying the year’s opening grand slam event if smoke haze from the bushfire emergency threatens players’ health.
- Novak Djokovic says his team has spoken to Tennis Australia and is monitoring air quality in both Melbourne and Sydney
- Djokovic has experienced poor air quality in tournaments in China, but says the smoke in Australia is at another level
- Ash Barty says “it really doesn’t matter” if the Open gets delayed as there are bigger issues going on in Australia
The Australian Open is due to start on January 20, but smoke haze has filtered into Melbourne as fires continue to rage in Victoria’s East Gippsland region.
And Djokovic, who has won the Australian Open singles title seven times, said the ATP Player Council would meet ahead of the tournament to discuss options, including a possible delayed start to the tournament.
“You have to consider it because of some extreme weather or conditions,” he said in Brisbane after clinching a win in the ATP Cup.
“That’s probably the very, very last option. If it comes down to … the conditions affecting the health of players, you have to consider it.”
Djokovic said his representatives had been in contact with Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley and had been monitoring air quality in both Melbourne and Sydney, where the ATP Cup finals will be held.
“People from my team have spoken to Craig Tiley, they are obviously tracking the situation every day as it is evolving,” he said.
“If it continues the same way and quality of air is affected in Sydney, I think Tennis Australia will be forced to create some rules about it.
“It is tough for them because the schedule has to be respected, the Australian Open starts at a certain time so there are a lot of things involved. But a health concern is a health concern for anybody.”
Many players on the ATP tour, including Djokovic, are no strangers to poor air quality in certain tournaments, including the recent events in China, but the Serb admits the Australian bushfires may be at another level.
“I know in China the playing conditions are very tough in terms of quality of air but this is something different — I have never had this kind of experience before,” he said.
“We will see. I hope it is going to dissipate but if it stays like that, we have a council meeting in a week or 10 days and we will discuss [air quality policy] for sure if the conditions stay the same.”
Women’s world number one Ashleigh Barty said most players would agree the timing of the tennis was less important than safety.
“First and foremost, the reason that there is smoke in the air is what’s most devastating at the moment for our country,” she said.
“It’s just a really tough time. Tennis is a sport, it’s a game that we play, and there are certainly a lot of bigger things going on in Australia right now that we need to take care of.
“So, I mean, if it meant that we were delayed by a day or two … it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that Australians stay safe and we kind of sort out the bigger issues.”
Tennis “is a game that we love, yes, and we try and be the ultimate professionals and do everything that we can, but it is a game. You need to put things into perspective and worry about the bigger things in life first.”
Barty donating prize money to bushfire relief
Barty was flying home across Australia following the Fed Cup final when she saw the early signs of devastation from the bushfires.
So the problem has not just dawned on her, as it may have for some players arriving for the season-opening events. But the scale and gravity of the situation is really hitting home.
Barty went to a nearby animal shelter after she returned from the Fed Cup loss to France in Perth last November and donated money because at that stage animals were the main casualties of the flames. Now she is joining the fundraising for a bigger relief effort.
She is donating any prize money she wins at the Brisbane International, her home tournament, to the Australian Red Cross for the recovery effort. The winner of the tournament, which starts Monday, will earn $US250,000 ($360,000).
“It’s been really terrible, it really has. For me, this started two or three months ago,” Barty said of the damage caused by the bushfires.
“We have to remember, this has been going on for a long time across our whole country. The first I saw of it was actually flying home … to the east coast and we could see some of the smoke and some of the fires.
“Obviously the worst of it is still out there at the moment. Now it’s not just the wildlife, it’s also affected Australians with their lives and their homes.”
Australian Open organisers will hold a special charity event on January 15, five days before the tournament begins.
Nick Kyrgios was among the first tennis players to pledge, promising $200 for every ace he hits this month. He served 20 in Australia’s opening win at the ATP Cup.
Barty, who started her rise to world number one with a run to the quarterfinals at the last Australian Open and then won her first major title at the French Open, will also be a familiar face in the fundraising campaign.