Djokovic says Australian Open could be delayed due to poor conditions as tournament organizers consider options

leye aduloju /

World No. 2, Novak Djokovic has suggested that the start of the Australian Open should be delayed if the poor air quality in the host city fails to improve.

The Serbian said the ATP Players Council will meet before the scheduled start of the tournament to discuss possible options.

Australia has been hit by some of the worst bushfires in the country’s history, leading to severe heat and drought, and poor air quality. Australian Open host venue, Melbourne is one of the affected cities, with air quality index going as high as 213 this week, a value deemed very unhealthy on the index scale.

Medical experts recommend that outdoor exertion should be limited when the air quality index gets that high.

Tennis Australia are monitoring the conditions very closely, and are considering several contingency plans, including moving matches to indoor courts, if the air quality does not get better.

“You have to always consider it [delaying the start of the Australian Open] because of some extreme weather and conditions,” Djokovic said. “I think that’s probably the very, very last option. But if it comes down to those conditions affecting the health of players, I think we should definitely consider it.”

“People from my team have spoken to Craig Tiley, they are obviously tracking the situation every day as it is evolving”.

The seven-time Australian Open champion has had health issues with conditions in Melbourne in the past. He was forced to retire from his 2009 quarter final against Andy Roddick after struggling in the heat, while he lost from two sets to one up against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the same stage in 2010 after having respiratory issues during the match.

Australian Open organizers have said that matches could be suspended and moved to indoor courts if the air quality is deemed too poor and dangerous for the health of the players.

The Australian Open has more covered courts than any of the other Grand Slam venues, with show courts, Rod Laver Arena, Margaret Court Arena and Melbourne Arena all having roofs. The national tennis centre also houses eight more indoor courts, but there isn’t much room for spectators on these other courts.

The governing body has already been forced to move a Challenger event from Canberra to Bendigo, 400 miles from the original venue, to protect the players from poor air quality. The air quality in Canberra is currently the worst of any major city in the world.

“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,” said Tennis Australia CEO and Australian Open tournament director, Craig Tiley.

“Assessing the likelihood of smoke-induced interruptions is a bit like how we treat heat and rain. We have experts who analyze 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.”

The tennis community has been very pro-active in its support for the victims of the Australian bushfires, with Djokovic, Nick Kyrgios, Simona Halep, Ashleigh Barty and Karolina Pliskova among many top players who have pledged financial support to the relief efforts.

There will be a Rally for Relief exhibition night at Rod Laver Arena next Wednesday, with some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams set to feature.

The Australian Open is scheduled to begin on 20 January.