Qualifying rounds were delayed for a second straight day on Wednesday at the Australian Open as organisers waited for the forecast rains which might ease the bush-fire smoke crisis.
With the Victorian capital awakening to more haze from the fires still burning to the east, for a second, tennis bosses delayed the start of preliminary rounds by three hours to early afternoon in the interests of player health.
Tuesday’s decision to play one resulted in one female player helped of the court after a coughing fit due to polluted air rolling in from the blazes which have left parts of the nation’s dry bushland a smouldering heap and around 2, homes destroyed.
Both practice and qualy rounds were delayed to let the air clear somewhat.
Tournament officials sought to re-assure players, officials and ballkids that health comes first at the multi-million dollar annual enterprise, first major of the season.
“Conditions at Melbourne Park are being constantly monitored and further decisions will be made using the onsite data and in close consultation with our medical team, the Bureau of Meteorology and scientists from EPA Victoria,” a statement from Tennis Australia read.
Regional events in the state were suspended due to conditions; horse race meetings were cancelled in the punting-mad state for a second consecutive day.
Rainshowers were expected for late in the day, with forecasters counting on them to help clear away some of the lingering haze which had pushed Melbourne’s poor air quality to that on a level with a typical Chinese metropolis.
Tennis official have so far insisted that all will come good and the Open will begin on schedule on Monday.
Their assurances have drawn criticism from players – most of them lesser lights who would be expected to play on unprotected outside courts at Melbourne Park as opposed to the three covered, air-conditioned showcourts at the riverside sporting complex.
Calls are continuing for the tournament to establish standards for air quality to go hand-in-hand with their long-established heat policy, a complex formula which can force matches to be stopped in an instant if conditions demand.