The Australian Open delayed the first round of qualifying matches and suspended practice sessions on Tuesday morning because of poor air quality at Melbourne Park.
“Further decisions will be made based on onsite data, and in close consultation with our medical team, the Bureau of Meteorology and scientists from EPA Victoria,” a statement from tournament organisers read.
“As always the health and safety of our players, our staff and our fans is our priority.”
Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority issued a warning on Monday evening that conditions in Melbourne on Tuesday morning would be poor to hazardous as a consequence of the bushfires raging across the state and neighbouring New South Wales. Conditions are expected to improve during the day.
The Victorian government’s advice is for residents to “minimise the time spent in smoky conditions whenever practical to do so” and “avoid exercise”. Both are considerable challenges for a major outdoor sporting event.
Among the players affected by the delayed start to qualifying are Australia’s former No 1 male tennis player Bernard Tomic, and the Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, a finalist at the 2014 Wimbledon Championships.
Australia’s poor air quality has been threatening to affect the year’s first grand slam for some time. A week ago the tournament director, Craig Tiley, was optimistic the tournament would go ahead but said air quality would be closely monitored.
“We have committed substantial extra resources to analysis, monitoring and logistics to ensure the health and safety of all players, staff and fans throughout the summer and have no other plans to move events [having cancelled a Challenger in Canberra],” Tiley said.
“Assessing the likelihood of smoke-induced interruptions is a bit like how we treat heat and rain. We have experts who analyse all available live data as specific to our sites as possible and consult regularly with tournament officials and, in the case of heat and smoke, medical experts.
“We have access to real-time monitoring of air quality at all of our venues and are working closely with medical personnel and local experts onsite to ensure we have the best possible information available to make any decisions regarding whether play should be halted at any point.
“The health of players, fans and staff is a priority at all times and we will continue to make these decisions with that in mind.”
Novak Djokovic, president of the ATP player council, has already indicated competitors would have to consider their options – delaying their participation among them – should Melbourne’s air quality prove hazardous.