Australian Open tennis: Bushfire smoke interrupts practice

Thick smoke has shrouded Melbourne ahead of the Australian Open at Melbourne Park

I warmed up and then I was most surprised by how bad it still was when I was walking out to the court.

You can hardly see the (city) buildings over there.

The hazardous air quality also coincided with the start of the Australian Open qualifiers, with the first round of matches delayed. "But the points were a bit longer and I just couldn't breathe anymore and I just fell on the floor".

The umpire said the conditions were behind the call to stop play after nearly two and a half hours.

Brett Sutton, the state's chief health officer, said he believed air quality had dropped to the "worst in the world" overnight as cooler temperatures brought particles in the air close to the ground.

It's an obvious concern with the world's eyes set to be glued on Melbourne during the two-week championship, scheduled to begin Monday.

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Russian Sharapova's match with Germany's Laura Siegemund was called off with Siegemend leading 7-6, 5-5 after both players complained to the chair umpire.

It's an obvious concern with the world's eyes set to be glued on Melbourne during the two-week championship from Monday when thousands of global and Australian tennis fans will also throng to the precinct.

Australian Open tournament director, Craig Tiley, said last week that he was hopeful the tournament would go ahead but said air quality would be closely monitored.

"We have access to real-time monitoring of air quality at all of our venues and are working closely with medical personnel and local experts onsite to ensure we have the best possible information available to make any decisions regarding whether play should be halted at any point".

The bushfire smoke from East Gippsland is so thick that the organisers of the Australian Open temporarily suspended practice and this afternoon, one player retired due to breathing difficulties. "They are obviously tracking the situation every day as it is evolving", said Djokovic, who is also the ATP Player Council president.

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