Australian Open officials were heavily criticised by players on Tuesday after allowing the qualifying event to continue, as smoke from wildfires enveloped Melbourne.
Dalila Jakupovic was forced to abandon her match after a coughing fit caused by the poor air quality, while Australian Bernard Tomic had to be given an inhaler after being treated on court for breathing difficulties.
Practice was scrapped but, following an hour’s delay, players were given the all clear to go ahead with their matches at Melbourne Park.
Jakupovic had to be led off court after a coughing fit which forced her to her knees. It led to an angry rebuke from the Slovenian, who had been leading Stefanie Vogele by a set.
She said: “I was really scared that I would collapse. That’s why I went onto the floor because I couldn’t walk anymore. I don’t have asthma and never had breathing problems. I actually like the heat.
“The physio came again and I thought it would be better. But the points were a bit longer and I just couldn’t breathe anymore and I just fell on the floor. It’s not healthy for us.
"I was surprised, I thought we would not be playing but we don’t have much choice.”
Tomic lost out 7-6, 6-3 in his qualifier against Denis Kudla and during the match said “I just can’t breathe” while being treated by a doctor.
Last year’s Wimbledon semi-finalist Elina Svitolina, who reached the quarter-finals in Melbourne in 2018 and 2019, was critical of tournament organisers. She tweeted: “Why do we need to wait for something bad to happen to take action?"
Other players to struggle on court included Britain’s Liam Broady, in losing his qualifier, and the Canadian Eugenie Bouchard suffered chest pains and received treatment.
“By the end of the second set it was tough to breathe,” she said. “I got the physio and she gave me some stuff that helped. It’s not ideal to play in these conditions. I’m never one to stop playing but I definitely started to feeling unwell and I had to call the trainer because it was tough to breathe.”
In a statement earlier in the day, tournament officials gave the all-clear for play to take place and said that conditions were expected to improve.
A statement on Twitter read: “Further decisions will be made based on on-site data, and in close consultation with our medical team, the Bureau of Meteorology and [air quality] scientists from EPA Victoria. The health and safety of players, staff and fans is our priority.”
Maria Sharapova’s exhibition match at the Kooyong Classic in the same city against Laura Siegemund was called off mid-match because of the poor conditions.
Sharapova said: “I started feeling a cough coming toward the end of the second set but I’ve been sick for a few weeks so I thought that had something to do with it.
“But then I heard Laura speak to the umpire and she said she was struggling with it as well. We were out there for over two hours so from a health standpoint it’s the right call from the officials.”
There is confidence qualifying will be completed as planned with the smoke predicted to clear on Wednesday and with enough spare time in the schedule at the weekend to finish any remaining qualifying matches.
With the main draw starting on Monday, tournament director Craig Tiley had already said there are plans in place to move any matches indoors should conditions remain difficult.
Melbourne Park has three show courts with roofs as well as eight other indoor courts, although the latter would not be equipped for the spectators expected to throng to the first Grand Slam of the year.
Meanwhile, British no1 Dan Evans booked his place in the quarter-finals of the Adelaide International with 7-5, 6-2 victory over Alexander Bublik.
Evans suffered a solitary blip when missing out on an opportunity to serve for the first set at 5-4 but responded by winning eight out of the next 10 games for a place in the last eight.
Following his victory, he will face either Sam Querrey or Andrey Rublev for a place in the semi-finals.
And there was a win for Kyle Edmund too in his rain-delayed match against Alejandro Davidovich at the ASB Classic in Auckland.
The match took seven hours to complete, Edmund coming through a 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 winner.