MELBOURNE • Smoke from bush fires is unlikely to delay the Australian Open, organisers said yesterday, insisting they have pulled out all the stops to protect the health and safety of players.
With the first Grand Slam of the year starting on Jan 20, there have been fears over the air quality in Melbourne.
According to the Environment Protection Authority of the state of Victoria, which uses the air quality index (AQI) to determine the level of pollution, the city's central business district was rated 48 as of yesterday evening. That falls within the good category (34-66).
While conditions have eased up compared to Monday, when Melbourne's air quality was classified as very poor (150-200) after being blanketed by haze, authorities have yet to contain the blazes in the Gippsland region to the east of the city.
South-easterly winds will bring the smoke back to Melbourne, but Tennis Australia (TA) chief Craig Tiley has insisted the ongoing situation will not affect the Major.
"There has been a lot of speculation," he said. "All the information we have at the moment, with qualifying coming up next week, is that the forecast is good.
"We don't expect any delays and we've implemented additional measures to ensure the Australian Open will be able to run as scheduled."
He added that while images of the fires - which have destroyed hundreds of properties - were distressing, there was no danger to people in Melbourne.
"The closest fires are several hundred kilometres from the city," he said, while stressing that the health and safety of players, staff and fans were a priority.
"We've committed substantial extra resources... to ensure this throughout the tournament. There will be meteorological and air quality experts on site to analyse all available live data and assess in real time the air quality, and we always work closely with our medical personnel and other local experts."
Any smoke hazards would be treated in a similar way to extreme heat and rain, with umpires able to stop play if air monitoring shows it is too dangerous to continue.
Melbourne Park, the venue of the Australian Open, has three covered stadiums and eight indoor courts.
But as Melbourne Park has three covered stadiums and eight other indoor courts, the chances of major delays appear minimal.
The fires have been a key talking point among players and TA has also arranged a fund-raising exhibition match at Melbourne's Rod Laver Arena next Wednesday.
World No. 1 Rafael Nadal has confirmed his participation, calling the crisis, which has left at least 25 people dead and millions of hectares destroyed, a "super sad situation".
"From my side, we will do things to try to raise money for this terrible thing... so I am here to help in any way that is possible," he said.
"I'm sure we will be able to, together with the rest of the players, help to raise important money for this disaster."