STA, 14 January 2020 - Slovenian tennis player Dalila Jakupović started the Australian Open qualifying tournament on Tuesday, but conceded after leading the match 6-4, 5-6 due to uncontrollable coughing and breathing difficulties, likely caused by smoke and air pollution from the continent's fires.
It is yet unclear whether her coughing fit was directly linked to fires wreaking havoc with the air quality, but many tennis players and coaches urged the organisers to postpone the matches.
After her retirement from the match with Switzerland's Stefanie Vögele, Jakupović told the press she was indeed having problems due to the polluted air.
"I think it's not fair to us, the players, besides, it's definitely not healthy," the 28-year-old said, adding she was shocked upon finding out the qualifying matches would go on today.
She highlighted that the organisers still had plenty of time until the tournament's start. "It was really bad. I've never experienced anything like it and I was quite scared. I was afraid of losing consciousness and falling down. That's why I dropped to my knees. I couldn't walk anymore," said Jakupović, who persisted playing for almost two hours.
Similar problems occurred during a match between Slovenian tennis player Blaž Kavčič and Brit Joy Clark. Kavčič won the match 7-6, 3-6, 6-2, but one of the ball kids fainted during the face-off.
Both players immediately stooped playing and came to the kid's help, report the Australian media, with the medical assistance being provided.
The first Grand Slam of the season takes place in Melbourne where air pollution has dropped to hazardous levels, the worst-rated in the world, with smoke from the fires lingering over the city. The authorities have warned the locals to take health precautions, stay at home and shut the doors and windows.
However, the organisers have assured the public they are constantly checking the improving levels and that umpires have the power to stop the matches to protect the participants' health.
"Not the best air quality this morning in #Melbourne," twitted today Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena Williams's coach, adding a photo of Melbourne blanketed in smoke haze.