British tennis player Liam Broady has said that an email sent by the ATP and Australian Open organisers justifying the decision to go ahead with play as scheduled has “boiled my blood” in an outburst criticising the air conditions in Melbourne.
The near-by bushfires have left a cloud of smoke over the city, where the Australian Open is due to get underway on Monday morning, and qualifying for the first round has been heavily impacted this week as a result. A number of players have experienced breathing difficulties and been forced to take medical timeouts, while some matches have been delayed or cancelled and one player collapsed at the start of the week.
Broady was forced to play his first round qualifying tie against Belarusian Ilya Ivashka on Tuesday and said that he was left “gasping for air” on his way to a defeat.
"The more I think about the conditions we played in a few days ago, the more it boils my blood. We can't let this slide,” Broady said on Twitter.
"The email we received yesterday from the ATP and AO (Australian Open) was a slap in the face. Conditions were 'playable'. Were they 'healthy'?
"Citizens of Melbourne were warned to keep their animals indoors the day I played qualifying, and yet we were expected to go outside for high-intensity physical competition?
"What do we have to do to create a players' union? Where is the protection for players, both male and female? On tour we let so many things go that aren't right but at some point we have to make a stand. ALL players need protection not just a select few."
Broady is not the only player to hit out at the ATP regarding the email, which claimed that "player welfare is utmost in our considerations", with air conditions the greatest concern following seven months of bushfires in Australia.
Air quality readings are being taken every four minutes at Melbourne Park and organisers Tennis Australia say that play will be suspended if the readings exceed 200, which on Tuesday did occur in other areas across Melbourne. However, the organisers added that “no play has taken place at any time above the 200 threshold on the PM2.5 scale”, with another section of the email adding that other sporting bodies use a mark of 300 before play is stopped.
Heavy rain overnight has at least seen the air rating return from ‘very bad’ to ‘good’ on Thursday, but players remain angry with being forced to play this week in conditions deemed unacceptable.
American Noah Rubin claimed that he had “blood and black stuff” coming out of his nose after playing this week. “A lot of players have been feeling it in the throat and eyes. It can't be healthy breathing it in,” Rubin told the BBC.
"The talk between players is about disappointment. A lot are saying they can't wait to get out of Australia right now and we love playing in Australia. It's left a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths - almost literally.
"We feel awful about what is happening with the fires - it is terrible and obviously there are way worse things - but we're talking about how are we having a tournament going on, and how do we not know how to go about it? Why can't we play inside; why are there not emergency things taking place?"
Earlier this week, Slovenian player Dalila Jakupovic collapsed when leading Stefanie Vogele after suffering a coughing fit, which forced their match to be cancelled as she could not continue.