Player collapses in a fit of coughing amid 'hazardous' air quality at Australian Open
A player collapsed in a coughing fit and retired from Australian Open qualifying yesterday as organisers faced a storm of criticism for ploughing ahead with matches despite bushfire smoke plunging Melbourne's air quality to "hazardous" levels.
Slovenia's Dalila Jakupovic was leading Stefanie Vogele 6-4 5-6 at Melbourne Park when she slumped to her knees at the back of the blue hardcourt suffering breathing difficulties.
Twenty-eight people have been killed and thousands made homeless in recent months as huge fires across the country have scorched 11.2 million hectares, almost one-and-a-half times the area of Ireland.
Jakupovic (28) told reporters she was fighting for breath. "I never experienced something like this and I was really scared," she said. "I was scared that I would collapse. That's why I went on the floor (of the court) because I couldn't walk any more. When I was on the ground it was easier to get some air."
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Her retirement came only hours after tournament director Craig Tiley defended the decision to proceed with qualifiers after they were initially delayed due to the poor air. "During the period of when we suspended practice and restarted the matches there was an improvement in the conditions," Mr Tiley said before Jakupovic's retirement.
The pollution prompted warnings for people to stay indoors, bring pets inside and shut windows.