MELBOURNE (Reuters) - World number 13 Denis Shapovalov says he will refuse to play at the Australian Open if forced to compete in poor air and expects other leading players at the Grand Slam tournament would do the same if their health is at risk.
Organizers have been criticized by players and the media for ploughing ahead with qualifying this week despite authorities warning residents to stay indoors and restrict physical activity as air quality plunged due to bushfire smoke.
Canadian Shapovalov, who plays Marton Fucsovics in the first round on Monday, said he would have little hesitation defaulting if scheduled to play in the conditions that plagued qualifying on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“I wouldn’t play. I’m 20-years-old, it’s a Grand Slam, it’s a big opportunity but I’m 20-years-old,” he told reporters at Melbourne Park on Saturday.
“I don’t want to risk my life, risk my health being out there playing in this condition when I can (play) for the next 10-15 years.
“I think everyone’s kind of on the same page in terms of how it is. I don’t think anyone’s happy with the way things are being dealt with.
“I’m sure the top guys aren’t going to want to come out in this condition either. I’m sure Rafa (Nadal) and Roger (Federer) and Novak (Djokovic) are not going to want to play when it’s bad for their health as well.”
A Slovenian player was forced to retire from qualifying after having a coughing fit on Tuesday and a slew of other players complained of breathing difficulties.
Victoria’s Environmental Protection Authority rated the air quality in central Melbourne as “good” on Saturday as the final round of qualifying got underway on schedule.
Tennis Australia has defended its decision to push ahead with qualifying, saying conditions were playable based on their on-site data and consultations with medical staff, weather forecasters and government scientists.
Shapovalov, however, said the governing body had got it wrong and queried why organizers had not come to grips with the issue weeks ago with fires raging across Australia for months.
“As a player, it’s kind of scary coming to this city, seeing how the players are collapsing, seeing that fit players are needing inhalers to play tennis,” he said.
“And it’s two out of three sets (in qualifying), it’s not even three-out-of-fives yet.
“This should have been thought about weeks before, it shouldn’t be something that we have to be dealing with right now.”
Shapovalov said the conditions were bad for everyone, ranging from officials to ballkids, and was concerned about the potential long-term effects of inhaling the pollution.
“I mean, obviously, you see the effects on players it has right now over the last couple of days but also you don’t know what it’s going to do later in our lives and how it could affect us if we’re breathing this air in for two weeks.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford