TA officials are keeping a close eye on the fires which continue to ravage parts of Victoria – particularly the blaze in the East Gippsland region. Smoke from the East Gippsland fire blanketed Melbourne yesterday, creating conditions that would potentially be hazardous for players as air quality dips dramatically.
An indication of what that scenario may look like played out in Sydney on Sunday, when smoke filtered into Ken Rosewall Arena while Bulgarian star Grigor Dimitrov was in the middle of his ATP Cup match against Moldova’s Radu Albot. Dimitrov described the conditions as “not pleasant”.
Denis Kudla, an American player who trained in Melbourne on Friday before heading to Bendigo for the ATP Challenger event, said he could not inhale or exhale fully without coughing during his practice session.
“If it’s anything like yesterday, I don’t think it would be safe over a two-, three-week period,” Kudla said of potential conditions for the Australian Open. “You could play, but who knows what damage we’re actually causing to ourselves? It can’t be good.
“But if the smoke gets worse, I couldn’t imagine potentially playing a four-, five-hour match and not coughing like crazy post-match trying to recover and feeling awful.”
TA chief Craig Tiley said potential smoke hazards would be treated in a similar manner to extreme heat and rain, in line with TA’s policies. If real-time air monitoring shows dangerous levels of smoke and medical experts believe matches should be stopped, umpires will stop play.
“We have experts who analyse 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.
“We have access to real-time monitoring of air quality at all of our venues and are working closely with medical personnel and local experts onsite to ensure we have the best possible information available to make any decisions regarding whether play should be halted at any point.”
Djokovic is a prominent member of the ATP Player Council and said the matter would be on the agenda in just over a week when they next meet.
The world No.2 had said TA would have to be prepared to take drastic action. “You have to consider it because of some extreme weather or conditions,” Djokovic said. “That’s probably the very, very last option. If it comes down to … the conditions affecting the health of players, you have to consider it.”
Djokovic has also met with Tiley, who remains confident the crown jewel of the Australian tennis summer will not be delayed.
“The smoke has proven intermittently problematic in some areas,” Tiley said. “The worst affected so far has been in Canberra and after consultation with medical, air and weather experts we made a decision to move our event to Bendigo.
“We have committed substantial extra resources to analysis, monitoring and logistics to ensure the health and safety of all of players, staff and fans throughout the summer and have no other plans to move events.”
TA have also teased the line-up for the upcoming Rally for Relief while announcing tickets are now on sale, saying the world’s top players will take part in the event at Rod Laver Arena next Wednesday.
“The world’s top players, boasting many Grand Slam titles between them, have committed to AO Rally for Relief and we look forward to announcing the line-up in the coming days,” Tiley said in a statement. “The players are keen to be involved – we’ve had a tremendous response from them and they are keen to help.”
Sam is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.