Smoke from the Australian bushfires in South Wales and Victoria has engulfed Melbourne, the site of next week’s Australian Open, and it’s already causing breathing issues for athletes.
Dalila Jakupovic, a Slovenian tennis player ranked No. 180 in the world, collapsed in a coughing fit during her qualifying match and was forced to retire.
Awful scenes in Melbourne.
Dalila Jakupovic has abandoned her #AusOpen qualifying match after suffering a coughing fit while playing in thick smoke caused by the #AustralianFires. pic.twitter.com/WAJv6TzTjW
— ESPN Australia & NZ (@ESPNAusNZ) January 14, 2020
Jakupovic had been leading Switzerland’s Stefanie Voegele when she began coughing and sunk to her knees, unable to continue.
“I was really scared that I would collapse,” Jakupovic told the Australian Associated Press. “That’s why I went onto the floor because I couldn’t walk anymore. 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.”
Due to the smoke, the air quality in Melbourne is incredibly poor, as fellow competitor Elina Svitolina pointed out on Twitter.
— Elina Svitolina (@ElinaSvitolina) January 14, 2020
Amid advice from officials that Melbourne residents stay indoors, practice matches for the Australian Open were suspended. The qualifying matches were delayed but did eventually take place, and the smoke wreaked havoc with some players’ respiratory systems.
Canadian tennis player Eugenie Bouchard won her qualifier, but had to stop several times for medical timeouts due to chest pains and the feeling of “spikes in her lungs.”
“I felt like it was tough to breathe and a bit nauseous,” Bouchard said, via Slate. “As an athlete we want to be very careful, our physical health is one of the most important things. It’s not ideal to play in these conditions. Just like the heat rule, there should be an air quality rule.”
Jakupovic agreed, saying, "It's not healthy for us. I was surprised — I thought we would not be playing today, but we don't have much choice."
The Australian Open officially kicks off on Jan. 20.
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