Roger Federer has cut Australian Open organisers some slack, with the six-time winner confident the week’s bushfire smoke crisis is now under control.
“I don’t worry too much, to be honest. I worry more for everybody else who is in the fire, in the smoke,” the third-seeded 20-time Grand Slam champion said.
“Also we can stay indoors all day, quickly go out and play, go back in again. It’s not like we’re stuck outside at all times.”
Qualifying rounds earlier in the week had to be delayed and some player illness and retirements were reported when smoke from the blazes which began last November drifted over the choking Victorian capital.
Lower-ranked players – those whose Open matches will mainly be confined to the exposed outdoor courts at Melbourne Park as opposed to the three covered, air-conditioned show court venues where the game’s elite play – complained that playing in the smog posed a serious health hazard.
Only late in the week did Tennis Australia – which traditionally micromanages every tiny detail of hot weather problems – come out with an air quality index to use in determining whether it is safe to play.
Before the index was released, officials could only tell qualifiers to play on – a controversial stance at best.
Dalila Jakupovic of Slovenia was one early victim, quitting her qualifying match with a coughing fit and complaining that she could not breathe.
As he prepares for a Monday opening day start against Steven Johnson, Federer -perhaps tactically – pronounced his expectations for the first Grand Slam of the season “quite low.”
The winner of two of the last three editions who lost in a fourth-round upset a year ago to Stefanos Tsitsipas added:
“Practice has been going well, I’ve had plenty of time to pace myself, do all the things I had to do to get ready.
“I hope it’s enough…it’s a super long road to victory.
“That’s why I’ve got to take it one match at a time. My expectations are quite low.”
Federer’s start will be his first of the season after the 38-year-old icon opted out of the ATP Cup but got to Melbourne a week ago to train.