Australian Open qualifying was disrupted for a second successive day due to poor air quality on Wednesday as smoke from bushfires continued to blanket Melbourne in an acrid haze. Organizers of the year's first Grand Slam said practice had been suspended at Melbourne Park until 11am and qualifiers would not get under way until 1pm.
The EPA listed air quality in Melbourne, habitually ranked as one of the world's most livable cities, as very poor at 9am but not at the hazardous levels registered on Tuesday. Very poor means the air is likely smoky or dusty and that people might suffer coughing or shortness of breath.
The deteriorating conditions followed months of deadly bushfires that have engulfed huge swathes of the Australian countryside, leaving at least 28 people dead and more than 2,000 homes destroyed.
Qualifying was delayed for more than an hour on Tuesday but organizers were criticized for allowing it to resume, with Slovenia's Dalila Jakupovic forced to retire after suffering a coughing fit during her match.
Conditions at Melbourne Park are being constantly monitored and further decisions will be made using the onsite data and in close consultation with our medical team, the Bureau of Meteorology and scientists from EPA Victoria, governing body Tennis Australia said in a statement on Wednesday.
Play and practice at regional tournaments in Traralgon and Bendigo, along with a junior event at Royal Park in Melbourne, had also been suspended, it added.
Scheduled horse race meetings in two separate Melbourne suburbs were also cancelled on Wednesday, governing body Racing Victoria said, due to smoke haze and poor air quality. Races in Melbourne's western suburb of Werribee were scrapped a day earlier.
In a potential respite, the Victoria Bureau of Meteorology said thunderstorms were expected for the state later Wednesday, some of them severe with potential flash flooding.
Air quality is expected to improve with the rain showers but the weather is likely to cause more delays to the Australian Open schedule, creating further headaches for 21organisers.
Qualifying for the first Grand Slam of the year, due to start next week, also got under way late on Tuesday and Slovenian Dalila Jakupovic did not cope well. She ended her match against Switzerland's Stefanie Voegele early after a coughing fit, saying: I was really scared that I would collapse.
Former Australian Open semi-finalist Bouchard also had problems and needed a medical time-out after complaining of a sore chest.
Some players hit out for qualifying being allowed to go ahead, including world number five Elina Svitolina. ”Why do we need to wait for something bad to happen (to take) action?” she tweeted.