Several players competing at the Australian Open are speaking out over the hazardous conditions created by the devastating bushfires raging across the country.
“Why do we need to wait for something bad to happen to do an action
#Melbourne,” Elina Svitolina, the Ukrainian tennis star ranked fifth in the world for women’s singles, tweeted on Monday.
Along with her tweet, Svitolina shared a screengrab of an air quality chart from the World Air Quality Index claiming that the conditions in Melbourne, where the tournament is taking place, have been determined “very unhealthy.”
French player Gilles Simon, who competed in the tournament last year, similarly expressed his concern, tweeting: “When we have doctors who state that playing in 45 degrees isn’t dangerous at the Australian Open and referees who state that wet grass isn’t slippery at Wimbledon, we must be able to find an expert who can certify that the air quality is sufficient, no?” according to CNN.
Shocked to see that qualifying matches have started @AustralianOpen— mandy minella (@mandyminella) January 14, 2020
What about the health of all the people that have to work out there, especially the ballkids? #wherearethelimits? pic.twitter.com/2oldEptT2g
Tennis pro Mandy Minella of Luxembourg also called out the tournament’s organizers for not postponing the games.
“Shocked to see that qualifying matches have started @AustralianOpen What about the health of all the people that have to work out there, especially the ballkids? #wherearethelimits?” Minella later tweeted on Monday. She then shared a shocking image of the smoke clouding over the city from her hotel room window.
A postponement is something defending men’s tennis champion, Novak Djokovic, also called on the organizers to consider over the weekend.
“You have to consider it because of some extreme weather or conditions,” he told reporters on Saturday, according to The Guardian. “That’s probably the very, very last option. [But] if it comes down to … the conditions affecting the health of players, you have to consider it.”
On Monday, the City of Melbourne had described its air quality as “hazardous due to the bushfires” and advised citizens to “stay indoors, keep windows and doors shut, and keep pets inside.”
Those conditions forced Slovenian tennis player Dalila Jakupovic to retire from her qualifier match at Melbourne Park on Tuesday after suffering a coughing fit due to the heavy smoke caused by the bushfires, ESPN reported.
“I just couldn’t breathe,” the 28-year-old told CNN. “I couldn’t walk so I just went down [onto the floor] because I couldn’t stand up straight.
“After that, I had a panic attack because I couldn’t get air. It was very hard, I have to say. It was one of my hardest matches,” she added.
In a video that captured the moment, Jakupovic can be seen preparing to serve before collapsing to her knees on the court. The athlete, visibly crying, then speaks to Australian Open staffers before the chair umpire announces that she will no longer be able to continue the game.
Speaking to the New York Times later, Jakupovic called the situation “not fair because it’s not healthy for us.”
“I was surprised. I thought we would not be playing today but we really don’t have much choice,” she said.
Awful scenes in Melbourne.— ESPN Australia & NZ (@ESPNAusNZ) January 14, 2020
Dalila Jakupovic has abandoned her #AusOpen qualifying match after suffering a coughing fit while playing in thick smoke caused by the #AustralianFires. pic.twitter.com/WAJv6TzTjW
Australian Open practices had been temporarily suspended on Monday “due to poor air quality,” according to the tennis tournament’s official Twitter, noting that qualifying matches would still be held on Tuesday starting at 11 a.m. local time.
“Further decisions will be made based on onsite data, and in close consultation with our medical team, the Bureau of Meteorology and scientists from EPA Victoria,” the statement added. “As always the health and safety of our players, our staff and our fans is our priority.”
Throughout Tuesday’s games, several other players — including Eugenie Bouchard, Bernard Tomic and Liam Broady — also struggled with the air quality, some seeking medical treatment after their matches, according to the Times.
Organizers for the Australian Open did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment on their next steps.
Tom Larner, Tennis Australia’s chief operating officer, told The Guardian that they plan to treat the smoke similarly to a heat or rain delay.
“We’re treating any suspension of play like a rain delay or a heat delay, in that we will stop if conditions become unsafe based on medical advice, and once those conditions are safe to play, players will get back on court,” he said.
As of Tuesday evening in Melbourne, EPA Victoria maintained that conditions in the area were still “MODERATE to HAZARDOUS” and advised “everyone to take care, and stay indoors away from smoke where possible.”