Australian Open 2020: How Australia's fires could impact tennis tournament dates, scheduling

Sporting News

The beginning of the tennis year always takes place in Australia, and in 2020 that means contending with massive wildfires sweeping the continent, even if no significant tournament sites are likely to be in danger of localized burning.

Due to the time of year, the Australian Open is often played in incredibly hot conditions, especially as the summers have continued to heat up as part of global climate change. In recent months, Australia's wildfires have killed at least 25 people, costing many more their homes and forcing widespread evacuations. As the Australian Open approaches, there are still approximately 200 active blazes across the continent, with some expected to affect air quality in Melbourne, where the tournament is hosted.

That has led some of tennis' biggest stars, including Novak Djokovic, 2018 and 2019 men's singles champion, to question whether the Australian Open should be postponed, a proposal that seems unlikely and has been resisted by tournament officials.

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Here's everything you need to know about the 2020 Australian Open schedule, including how it might be affected by the bushfires across the country.

Australian Open schedule 2020

  • Start date: Jan. 20, 2020

  • End date: Feb. 2, 2020

Like each of tennis' Grand Slam tournaments, the Australian Open lasts two weeks, starting Monday, Jan. 20, and ending Sunday, Feb. 2, with the men's and women's singles finals. There will be matches played on all 14 days of the tournament.

Melbourne, Australian is 16 hours ahead of the United States' east coast.

Here is the full TV schedule.

Date

Round

Time

TV

Sunday, Jan. 19

First round

7 p.m. ET

ESPN2

Monday, Jan. 20

First round

9 p.m. ET

ESPN2

Tuesday, Jan. 21

Second round

9 p.m. ET

ESPN2

Wednesday, Jan. 22

Second round

9 p.m. ET

ESPN2

Thursday, Jan. 23

Third round

9 p.m. ET

ESPN2

Friday, Jan. 24

Third round

9 p.m. ET

ESPN2

Saturday, Jan. 25

Round of 16

9 p.m. ET

ESPN2

Sunday, Jan. 26

Round of 16

9 p.m. ET

ESPN2

Monday, Jan. 27

Quarterfinals

9 p.m. ET

ESPN2

Tuesday, Jan. 28

Quarterfinals

9 p.m. ET

ESPN2

Wednesday, Jan. 29

Semifinals

10 p.m. ET

ESPN2

Thursday, Jan. 30

Men's semifinals

3:30 a.m. ET

ESPN2

Friday, Jan. 31

Women's final

3:30 a.m. ET

ESPN2

Saturday, Feb. 1

Men's final

3:30 a.m. ET

ESPN2

Are the Australian wildfires affecting the Australian Open?

Because the Australian Open takes place in Melbourne, which is far enough away from the fires that the air quality fluctuates depending on wind patterns and other weather conditions, it's unclear how much effect the wildfires will have on the tournament.

During the qualifying tournament in the week before the main draw, multiple players complained the air quality affected their play or caused medical issues. Slovenian Dalila Jakupovic retired from her first-round qualifying match when she began coughing and struggling to catch her breath.

Jakupovic's retirement came on a poor air quality day in Melbourne.

Do Australian Open officials have a plan for fires?

There's only so much that can be done about the bushfires raging across the region, but Australian Open officials have safeguards in place to address possible changes in air quality in Melbourne. The tournament tweeted about the options if smoke from the fires becomes too much of a problem.

Last year, the Australian Open used 12 outdoor courts during its singles tournament, so there would still need to be some schedule adjustments if play is forced indoors during an early round.

The Canberra International, a low-level men's tournament, was moved to Bendigo due to the air quality in the Australian capital. Players who have arrived for the Australian swing have expressed worry about the conditions.

“If it’s anything like yesterday, I don’t think it would be safe over a two-, three-week period,” Dennis Kudla told The New York Times. “You could play, but who knows what damage we’re actually causing to ourselves? It can’t be good.”

“If it continues the same way and if the quality of air is affected in Melbourne or Sydney, I think Tennis Australia probably will be forced to, I think, create some rules about it,” Djokovic said at a press conference during the ATP Cup.

In a statement, Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley likened the air conditions to any other kind of weather-related event.

“We have experts who analyze all available live data as specific to our sites as possible and consult regularly with tournament officials and, in the case of heat and smoke, medical experts," Tiley said. "The health of players, fans and staff is a priority at all times and we will continue to make these decisions with that in mind.”

The start of two days of the qualifying tournament were delayed due to air quality concerns.

What have top players said about playing during the Australian wildfires?

In the weeks leading up to the tournament, many players have fielded questions about the air quality. Below are some of the quotes from top players.

  • “If it continues the same way and if the quality of air is affected in Melbourne or Sydney, I think Tennis Australia probably will be forced to, I think, create some rules about it," — Novak Djokovic

  • "No, I don't worry too much, to be honest. I worry more for everybody else who is in the fire, in the smoke. 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." — Roger Federer

  • "Everybody knows that I do have asthma problems, which I wasn't really happy about that if the air is still bad. It's same for everybody, so it will be really difficult to breathe for sure. I do have my medicines here, as well. Yeah, I'm going to use it if it's important." — Petra Kvitova

  • "I wouldn't play [if I believed conditions were unsafe.] Obviously it's a Grand Slam, it's a big opportunity, but I'm 20 years old. I don't want to risk my life, risk my health being out there in these conditions when I can play for the next 10, 15 years. ... I just don't see what the point is." — Denis Shapovalov

How did the Australia fires start?

Natural causes are the source of some of the flames, but Australian police have also issued numerous citations and charges for crimes related to fires, according to USA Today .

Twenty-four people have been charged with "deliberately lighting brushfires" and 100 more are accused of "failing to comply with the fire ban" or "discarding a lit cigarette or match."

Australia has always had a fire season, though this one started earlier due to unusually warm and dry weather conditions.

Where are the fires in Australia?

Most of the fires are on or near the eastern coast of the Australian continent, in the state of New South Wales. There are also fires in Victoria and South Australia.

Sydney and Canberra are among the big cities closest to and most affected by the fires.

Where is the Australian Open 2020?

The Australian Open takes place in Melbourne, a southern coastal city in the state of Victoria, at the Melbourne Park athletic facility and Rod Laver Stadium, which features a retractable roof. Melbourne is mostly unaffected by the wildfires. However, depending on wind conditions, smoke from nearby fires could affect the air quality.

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