Less than a week out from the Australian Open, organisers are scrambling to cope with hazardous smoke surrounding Melbourne Park.
The first day’s qualifying for the year’s opening tennis grand slam was delayed on Tuesday morning and practice suspended as Melbourne’s air quality ranged from hazardous to very poor.
Play eventually got underway at 11am – an hour later than planned – after the city’s air was the worst quality in the world overnight because of the bushfires in the state’s east.
It’s an obvious concern with the world’s eyes set to be glued on Melbourne during the two-week championship from Monday, when thousands of international and Australian tennis fans will also throng to the precinct.
Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley said when it became obvious smoke could have an impact, officials had to act for the welfare of all involved – players, fans and staff.
TA say they will work with their medical team, the Bureau of Meterology and EPA scientists when making decisions about whether it’s healthy to play.
“This is a new experience for all of us in how we manage air quality so we have to listen to the experts,” Tiley said.
“We have now real time raw data that we can collect – we have installed measuring devices on-site for air quality.”
Tennis Australia chief operating officer Tom Larner said they would be treating any smoke stoppages in the same way as an extreme heat or rain delay.
“We will stop if conditions become unsafe based on medical advice,” he said.
Twenty-two Australians are taking part in Open qualifying, including former world No.17 Bernard Tomic.