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January 16, 2020

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Angry players speak out as haze delays Australian Open qualifiers

Tempers flared at the Australian Open qualifying yesterday as players battled through another day of smoky air and two of the game’s all-time greats were labelled “selfish” for not protesting about the conditions.

Qualifying was disrupted for a second successive day, firstly by bushfire smoke and later by a torrential rain storm which cleared the air but put an end to play at Melbourne Park.

Tournament organizers have been under fire for ploughing ahead with the qualifiers after an initial delay on Tuesday, with players complaining of breathing difficulties and one forced to retire from a match after suffering a coughing fit.

The ill will spilled over into yesterday, with Canadian world No. 103 Brayden Schnur taking aim at 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer and world No. 1 Rafael Nadal for not taking a vocal stand for the lower-profile players in qualifying.

“It’s got to come from the top guys — Roger and Rafa are a little bit selfish in thinking about themselves and their careers,” Schnur told Australian Associated Press after winning his qualifier against Austrian Sebastian Ofner.

“Because they’re near the end and all they’re thinking about is their legacy and they’re not thinking about the sport itself and trying to do what’s good for the sport — so those guys need to step up.”

Schnur said he felt “super dryness” in his throat and that conditions were “100 percent not normal.”

“They’re just trying to shove us on the court because we’re qualifiers.”

France’s Nicolas Mahut posted a picture of himself wearing a mask over his mouth and nose with the caption: “Ready for my first round.”

Canada’s Vasek Pospisil, a member of the ATP Player Council, tweeted: “It’s time for a players’ union. This is getting absurd.”

Australia is experiencing one of its worst bushfire seasons on record, with fires burning for months and killing 28 people, destroying more than 2,500 homes and razing forests and farmland the size of Bulgaria.

Tennis Australia said it would continue to monitor on-site data and consult its medical team, the local bureau of meteorology and government scientists to determine whether conditions were fit for play.

Victoria state’s chief health officer, Brett Sutton, said Tennis Australia needs to establish a proper air quality policy alongside its existing extreme heat policy.

“They do have a heat policy, I think they need to plan out an air quality policy in the same way,” he told media.

“You can’t have a blanket solution, you need to look at the individual circumstances and what the alternatives are for protecting people.”

Meanwhile, a capacity crowd of more than 15,000 at Rod Laver Arena watched Roger Federer defeat Nick Kyrgios in a one-set finale to the Australian Open’s Rally for Relief to aid wildfire charities yesterday.

Tennis Australia said the night helped raise nearly 5 million Australian dollars (US$3.5 million) for the victims of the ongoing fires.

Other players who took part included Nadal, Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki and Alexander Zverev. On several occasions, volunteer fire personnel were invited on the court to play against the tennis stars.

The ATP on Sunday pledged US$500,000 to the WWF Australian Wildlife and Nature Recovery Fund as part of the bushfire relief efforts.

A number of players have made individual pledges, including American Williams who said she would donate all her prize-money from winning a tournament in Auckland on Sunday.

Australian Kyrgios has pledged A$200 for every ace he hits this month.

The Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of the year, starts on Monday.


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