Australian Open ‘is happening’ despite air quality concerns, says tournament director
By Jonathan Jurejko
BBC Sport at Melbourne Park
Australian Open organisers are confident the tournament will start and finish on time despite continuing health concerns over Melbourne’s air quality from bushfires in the country.
Some players have complained about having to play qualifying matches in smoky conditions.
“There is a lot of speculation about the Australian Open not happening, or starting later,” said tournament director Craig Tiley.
“The Australian Open is happening.”
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Slovenia’s Dalila Jakupovic had to be helped off court when she retired from her qualifying match on Tuesday because of the “unhealthy” air quality.
British player Liam Broady said having to play his first-round qualifier on the same day “made his blood boil”, adding he was “gasping for air” as he lost to Belarusian Ilya Ivashka.
People in Melbourne were advised to stay indoors and keep pets inside on Tuesday.
A number of players have also criticised the tournament for not postponing the matches, with American Noah Rubin saying he had “blood and black stuff” coming out of his nose following his match on Wednesday.
Tiley says he understands the anger of the players, adding he believes it stems from the confusion of seeing different measurements of air quality depending on the app or website they used.
Rubin, a former Wimbledon junior champion, also told BBC Sport he was unhappy with the communication from tournament officials, saying they were reluctant to explain the figures to the players.
“Air quality is a very complex and confusing issue which relates to a number of different factors,” said Tiley.
“There are number of different air quality measures and it is made more complex by going on an app. There are different apps and websites which give you different readings.
“This is about trusting the medical advice and trusting the expertise and scientific advice of the people who analyse this every day.
“The safety, the wellbeing and the health of the players is the priority for us, as with our staff and our fans.”
Tiley said the tournament decided to use a ‘PM2.5 concentrate’ measure to monitor the air quality levels after receiving advice from environmental and medical experts.
A PM2.5 reading is being taken every four minutes at Melbourne Park. If the reading exceeds 200, Tiley said it would be deemed hazardous and play would be suspended.
He says no reading has exceeded the 200 mark while matches have been in progress at Melbourne Park. However, it did exceed that mark – rated as ‘very unhealthy’ – on Tuesday, when qualifying was delayed by an hour.
If play is suspended, the Tennis Australia chief executive says the tournament will continue indoors under the roofs on Rod Laver Arena, Margaret Court Arena and Melbourne Arena.
“We do have three indoor arenas in which we can compete. It may look differently but the tournament will happen,” Tiley said.
“We are speculating if that would happen but if we had to work it out we would.
“We don’t expect that to happen because we haven’t yet seen anywhere in the world where there has been above that 200 on the PM2.5 concentrate consecutively over two weeks.”
The first Grand Slam of the year gets under way on Monday.