Tempers flared at the Australian Open qualifying on Wednesday as players battled through another day of smoky air and two of the game’s all-time greats were labelled “selfish” for not protesting about the conditions.
Qualifying was disrupted for a second successive day, firstly by bushfire smoke and later by a torrential rainstorm which cleared the air but put an end to play at Melbourne Park.
Tournament organisers have been under fire for ploughing ahead with the qualifiers after an initial delay on Tuesday, with players complaining of breathing difficulties and one forced to retire from a match after suffering a coughing fit.
The ill will spilled over into Wednesday, with Canadian world number 103 Brayden Schnur taking aim at 20-times Grand Slam champion Roger Federer and world number one Rafael Nadal for not taking a vocal stand for the lower-profile players in qualifying.
“It’s got to come from the top guys – Roger and Rafa are a little bit selfish in thinking about themselves and their careers,” Schnur told Australian Associated Press after winning his qualifier against Austrian Sebastian Ofner.
“Because they’re near the end and all they’re thinking about is their legacy and they’re not thinking about the sport itself and trying to do what’s good for the sport – so those guys need to step up.”
Schnur said he felt “super dryness” in his throat and that conditions were “100 percent not normal”.
“They’re just trying to shove us on the court because we’re qualifiers.”
On the other hand, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal pledged A$250,000 ($172,000) towards the Australian bushfire relief efforts at a charity event on Wednesday in the leadup to the Australian Open.
Nadal made the announcement at Melbourne Park’s Rod Laver Arena during the “Rally for Relief” event where top players including Serena Williams and Australian Open defending champion Novak Djokovic led fundraising efforts.
“Hopefully that will keep inspiring the people to support this terrible disaster that we’re going through and helps to recover all the things that we need,” Nadal said on court after an exhibition match.
An amazing night has helped take the total raised to $4,826,014 👏 👏 👏
And with #AO2020 around the corner there’s more tennis to come, more aces to be hit and more money to be raised.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 15, 2020
France’s Nicolas Mahut posted a picture of himself wearing a mask over his mouth and nose with the caption: “Ready for my first round.” Canada’s Vasek Pospisil, a member of the ATP Player Council, tweeted: “It’s time for a players’ union. This is getting absurd.”
Australia is experiencing one of its worst bushfire seasons on record, with fires burning for months and killing 28 people, destroying more than 2,500 homes and razing forests and farmland the size of Bulgaria.
Tennis Australia said it would continue to monitor on-site data and consult their medical team, the local bureau of meteorology and government scientists to determine whether conditions were fit for play.