A tennis court in Melbourne Park where the Australian Open takes place on January 15, 2020, with the skyscrapers of Melbourne covered by the smog of the smoke from the fires. - ASANKA BRENDON RATNAYAKE / AFP

Can the Australian Open start on Monday as planned? Tennis tournament organizers delayed the start of qualifying matches on Wednesday in Melbourne due to the toxic fumes caused by the monster fires in the east of the city, raising questions about the continuation of the first Grand Slam of the year.

The qualifying matches will not start before 1:00 p.m. local, three hours later than planned, and training is also suspended. On Tuesday, Slovenian Dalila Jakupovic had to withdraw from the first round of qualifying after suffering from a violent coughing attack on the court. "The conditions at Melbourne Park are constantly monitored," said the Australian Tennis Federation, which is responsible for organizing the first major tournament of the season, which is scheduled to start on Monday and end on February 2.

#AusOpen practice has been suspended until 11am this morning due to air quality concerns, and play won't start before 1.00pm.

Qualifying schedule - Wednesday January 15 - https://t.co/WfL8LyRlfs

- #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 14, 2020

Air quality between "very bad" and "dangerous"

Resumption of play decisions will be made in concert with the tournament medical team, meteorological services and scientists from the Victoria State Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Federation said. urged to take action due to the spread of deadly fires that have ravaged the country since September.

The air quality of the city was "very bad" Wednesday at 9 am, a little less degraded than the day before when it was described as "dangerous" by the EPA. The forecast is for an improvement from Friday.

The air quality which oscillates between "very bad" and "dangerous" in Melbourne (but it is supposed to improve on Thursday). Day-to-day decisions for the Australian Open pic.twitter.com/DotYEB3cs0

- Philippe Berry (@ptiberry) January 15, 2020

The city authorities then advised residents to "stay inside with doors and windows closed", but the organizers kept the games going despite the heat of the Australian summer.

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In addition to Jakupovic, the Canadian Eugénie Bouchard also had recourse to the doctor on the court Tuesday because of chest pain, probably due to breathing difficulties. But she was able to finish her match and qualify for the second qualifying round. Several players have criticized the decision to play matches under these conditions, such as the Ukrainian Elina Svitolina or the French Gilles Simon.

When we find doctors who say that playing at 45 degrees is not dangerous at the AO and referees who say that the wet grass is not slippery at Wimbledon, we must be able to find an expert who certifies that the air quality is sufficient right?

- Gilles SIMON (@ GillesSimon84) January 14, 2020

Tournament boss Craig Tiley brushed off critics saying "everyone has received an email," explaining that any decision is made after expert consultation. Since the devastating fires started in September, at least 27 people and 1 billion animals have died in Australia, more than 2,000 homes have been destroyed and an area of ​​100,000 square kilometers (10 million hectares) - larger than the area of ​​South Korea - went up in smoke.

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