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Smoke from fires in Melbourne makes tennis "extreme conditions"

"It was not going at all (…). On the ground, it was easier to breathe ", said Dalila Jakupovic, forced to give up on Tuesday, January 14, in the first qualifying round of the Australian Open in Melbourne. The Slovenian – who won the first set (6-4) and had a leveling ball in the second set (5-6) – suffered from severe coughing and breathing difficulties. Her opponent of the day, the Swiss Stefanie Vögele, did not really feel better. Earlier in the day, a ball collector had been unwell.

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Ex-world number one Maria Sharapova also had to give up during an exhibition match in the suburbs of Melbourne. The 32-year-old Russian player, who however played with a nasal retractor to facilitate breathing, spoke of playing conditions "Extreme".

"The chair umpire asked us to play one more game. We had already been playing for two hours. From my point of view, (giving up) was a wise decision. "

For several days, the city and its surroundings have been enveloped in a cloud of toxic smoke linked to the fires which are ravaging the east. Add to that the high temperatures of the Australian summer. The pollution level in Melbourne has reached a level "Dangerous", and health officials advised residents to stay at home.

Qualifying was delayed by two hours Tuesday morning, causing dismay and concern among some players who said the games should have been canceled for the day. Many players, including world number one Rafael Nadal, have given up on their outdoor training sessions.

"Wait for something serious to happen"

Ukrainian Elina Svitolina, who pointed to very bad air quality indices on Twitter, wonders: "Why do we have to wait for something serious to happen before we act? " As daily recalls The Team, "For comparison, the air quality index in Paris, not known to be the least polluted city in the world, is currently more than ten times lower".

The tournament organizers' apathy towards the situation caused the irritation of several players, like the French Alizé Cornet and Gilles Simon, as well as the Belgian Steve Darcis. "Tell everyone to stay inside and continue the program?" Well done ! " quipped the latter as the Melbourne Park, which hosts the tournament, has three indoor stadiums and eight indoor courts.

Last week, Serbian Novak Djokovic, president of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) players council and number two in the world, asked organizers to consider deferring the tournament if players' health is threatened. "The information we currently have (…) are announcing good weather forecasts, so we don't expect a delay (during the tournament) ", replied the president of the Australian Tennis Federation, Craig Tiley.

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Even if air pollution rises sharply, they will find it difficult to cancel one of Australia’s major sporting events of the year. Otherwise, there would be no financial problem, according to the Australian press, which reports nine-figure insurance – at least 100 million Australian dollars, 62 million euros.