Australian Open air quality: “Angry and sad” Jakupovic hits out at organizers for not cancelling play

Slovenia's Dalila Jakupovic has criticized Australian Open organizers for not cancelling play on Tuesday despite poor air quality in Melbourne.

Jakupovic had to be helped off the court on Tuesday after she retired from her qualifying match against Stefanie Voegele.

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“It was really bad. I never experienced something like this,” said Jakupovic, who led 6-4 5-6 before being forced to retire. “I was really scared I would collapse because I couldn’t walk anymore.”

Australia has been affected by some of the worst bushfires in the country’s history, sweeping through an estimated 10 million hectares and killing at least 28 people.

Melbourne residents had been advised stay indoors and keep their windows shut on Tuesday, but play still went ahead at the Australian Open. Practice was temporarily suspended for on Tuesday morning while the start of qualifying matches was delayed for about an hour due to the poor air quality, but play later went ahead.

“Conditions onsite are improving and are being constantly monitored,” a Tennis Australia spokeswoman said. “Further decisions will be made using onsite data and in close consultation with our medical team, the Bureau of Meteorology and scientists from EPA Victoria.”

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

Jakupovic was surprised that play was allowed to resume, labelling the decision unfair and unhealthy.

“I think it was not fair because it’s not healthy for us”, Jakupovic continued. “I was surprised. I thought we would not be playing today but we really don’t have much choice.”

“I’m angry and sad. I’m more sad because I had the win [in my grasp] and I just couldn’t finish it”.

The 180th-ranked Slovenian was not the only player that struggled in the conditions on Tuesday, with former Wimbledon finalist, Eugenie Bouchard leaving the court during her qualifying match against You Xiaodi after complaining of sore chest. Bouchard took a medical time out, but returned to win 4-6 7-6 6-1.

Elsewhere, Maria Sharapova’s exhibition match with Laura Siegemund in Kooyong was cut short due to the poor air quality. Siegemund had a 7-6 5-5 lead before both players agreed to abandon the match.

“I started feeling a cough coming toward the end of the second set but I’ve been sick for a few weeks so I thought that had something to do with it,” Sharapova told broadcasters after the match.

“But then I heard Laura speak to the umpire and she said she was struggling with it as well”.

“We were out there for over two hours, so from a health standpoint it’s the right call from officials.”

Seven-time Australian Open champion, Novak Djokovic recently suggested that the Australian Open should be postponed if the air quality does not improve, while Elina Svitolina put out a tweet on Tuesday calling on organizers to stop play when the conditions are deemed unhealthy.

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