"I never experienced something like this and I was really scared. I was scared that I would collapse..." Slovenian player Delia Jakupovic nervously explained to reporters as she was forced to withdraw from her first-round qualifying match.
The warm-up tournaments to the Australian Open went off without a hitch as the ATP Cup was a success playing at Brisbane, Perth and Sydney. Djokovic's Serbian team clinched the title from Spain. Karolina Pliskova won the Brisbane title over Madison Keys and Serena Williams captured her first title in three years over Jessica Pegula.
Hobart is fine too but as the time creeps closer to the Australian Slam, doubts and anxiety were more at the top of the players' minds on the environment instead of on their performances. "Why do we have to wait for something bad to happen before they take action?" Elina Svitolina had disgustingly asked now that the qualifying rounds have started in Melbourne and players are feeling the toxic fire affects.
Eugenie Bouchard was able to rally and defeat China's Xiaodi You in three sets 4-6, 7-6, 6-1 in her first qualifying round at Melbourne. Both had struggled with their serves but the struggle remained real when Bouchard summoned for medical assistance during the match because of the smoky air caused by the bushfires.
The Canadian had complained of feeling 'spikes in her lungs', saying that "I felt like it was tough to breathe and a bit nauseous. I felt like the conditions got worse as the match went on...but I was out there for a long time."
Bouchard's Chinese opponent started even serving underarm to put forth less effort as possible to conserve her energy and breath. Match play was suspended for an hour because of the thick bushfire smoke spreading around Melbourne.
There was a time it had subsided a bit and tournament organizers said it was acceptable to continue play. It's beginning to be not a good trend that more players moving into the Melbourne area getting ready for play of qualifying rounds or practice that breathign situations are developing on a continuous basis.
The match with Maria Sharapova and Laura Siegemund had to be stopped when a thick smoke penetrated the area. "I started feeling a cough coming toward the end of the second set but I've been sick for a few weeks so I thought that had something to do with it," Sharapova mentioned.
Siegemund hadn't been sick but had started feeling the affects and began complaining. On the news the City of Melbourne and Victoria were warned to stay indoors because of 'poor air quality', while players tried playing their qualifying rounds; some with success and victories while others bowed almost acceptingly to their opponents and left to be in a comfortable hotel room.
Tournament director Craig Tiley had said that "this morning the smokehaze was significant" and he contested that matches be postponed until another hour. Tom Larner, Tennis Australia's chief operating officer proclaims to treat the smoke situation like other conditions as heat or rain.
He'd said that "once those conditions are safe to play, players will get back on court." The 'elephant in the room' is still the same. Players and the tennis community are wondering if the smoke haze continues and is deemed unsafe, what will happen with the Australian Open? This is probably the worst scenario to think on but the most realistic.
Indeed monies will be at a severe jeopardy for everyone involved. Playing in another area that isn't affected may be too catastrophic to organize. If conditions do not improve soon for play to consistently happen, the Australian Open may be taking a big hit, and it won't be with a tennis racket either.