(Reuters) – Four-times Grand Slam champion Kim Clijsters believes it is impossible to ignore air quality issues heading into next week’s Australian Open and urged organizers to make player health a top priority.
Australia has been battling its worst bushfire season on record, with fires burning for months killing 29 people, and destroying more than 2,500 homes while razing bushland across an area the size of Bulgaria.
Tournament organizers faced criticism this week for going ahead with qualifying rounds, as smoky conditions forced a player to retire after a coughing fit.
“If it’s not possible to play in then what’s the point?” former world number one Clijsters told the BBC.
“If you can’t play and bring good tennis and be fit enough to play two hours, or even the guys 4-5 hours in this environment. You can’t avoid or ignore it.
“They have delayed (qualifying) matches, but it’s not going to solve the air quality.”
Canadian world number 103 Brayden Schnur called out 20-times Grand Slam champion Roger Federer and world number one Rafa Nadal for not taking a vocal stand for the lower-profile players in qualifying.
Clijsters, whose intended comeback from retirement at the Australian Open was derailed by a knee injury, said she would have wanted the organizers to explain how they were going to deal with the issue when the main draw starts on Monday.
“On the center and show courts there is not an issue – they can close the roof and they can have the ventilation on, but on the outside courts… you can’t play a whole event just on a few show courts that have a roof.
“If I would have been there, I think I would have been very vocal and at least talk to the board and the tournament directors to try to think about solutions.”
(Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)