Tennis: Players hit out at Aussie Open organisers for lack of action over poor air quality, slam stars for silence

Aussie Open organisers' lack of action and Big Three's silence earn ire of lesser lights

Rally for Relief 2020 brought tennis legends together in aid during Australian bushfire crisis.
(From left) Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic were among the stars who raised nearly A$5 million for bush-fire relief efforts at a charity match last night. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
(From left) Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic were among the stars who raised nearly A$5 million for bush-fire relief efforts at a charity match last night. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MELBOURNE • Tempers flared at Australian Open qualifying yesterday as players battled through another day of smoky air while two of tennis' all-time greats were labelled "selfish" for not protesting about the conditions.

Qualifying was disrupted for a second successive day, firstly by bush fire smoke and later by a torrential rain storm which cleared the air but put an end to play at Melbourne Park.

Tournament organisers have been criticised for ploughing ahead with the qualifiers after an initial delay on Tuesday, with players complaining of breathing difficulties and one forced to retire from a match after suffering a coughing fit.

The ill will spilt over into the next day, with Canadian world No. 103 Brayden Schnur taking aim at 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer and world No. 1 Rafael Nadal for not taking a vocal stand for the lower-profile players in qualifying.

"It's got to come from the top guys - Roger and Rafa are a little bit selfish in thinking about themselves and their careers," he told the Australian Associated Press after winning his qualifier against Austrian Sebastian Ofner.

"Because they're near the end and all they're thinking about is their legacy and they're not thinking about the sport itself and trying to do what's good for the sport. Those guys need to step up."

Schnur added that he felt a "super dryness" in his throat and that conditions were "100 per cent not normal".

He said: "They (organisers) are just trying to shove us on the court because we're qualifiers."

France's Nicolas Mahut posted a picture of himself wearing a face mask with the caption: "Ready for my first round."

Canada's Vasek Pospisil, a member of the ATP Player Council, tweeted: "It's time for a players' union. This is getting absurd."

Federer, Nadal and the last member of the "Big Three", Novak Djokovic, did step up yesterday but in a different way. They were at Rod Laver Arena, where they were among a number of players who featured in a Rally For Relief exhibition event to raise nearly A$5 million (S$4.64 million) for bush-fire relief efforts.

Nadal and world No. 2 Djokovic, president of the ATP Player Council, also announced on Sunday that the ATP would donate A$725,000 from players' pockets towards the WWF's Australian Wildlife and Nature Recovery Fund.

Australia is experiencing one of its worst bush fires on record, with fires burning for months and killing 28 people, destroying more than 2,500 homes and razing forests and farmland - 154 times the size of Singapore.

Tennis Australia said it would continue to monitor on-site data ahead of the Grand Slam next week and consult its medical team, the local bureau of meteorology and government scientists to determine whether conditions were fit for play.

As at 8pm yesterday, the air quality index was deemed to be "hazardous" at a reading of 302.

Brett Sutton, chief health officer for the state of Victoria, said Tennis Australia needed to establish a proper air quality policy alongside its existing extreme heat policy.

"They do have a heat policy. I think they need to plan out an air quality policy in the same way," he told media. "You can't have a blanket solution, you need to look at the individual circumstances and what the alternatives are for protecting people."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2020, with the headline 'Players cry foul over air quality'. Subscribe