Players Suffer Coughing Fits And Breathing Difficulties During Australian Open Qualifying - UBITENNIS
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Players Suffer Coughing Fits And Breathing Difficulties During Australian Open Qualifying

Serious concerns have been raised by players over the current conditions at the Melbourne grand slam.

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Organisers of the Australian Open have come under fire after opting to start the first day of the Australian Open qualifying despite air quality readings in the city being measured as ‘hazardous.’

Melbourne Park, which is the venue of the grand slam tournament, was surrounded by a haze on Tuesday as a result of the bushfires wrecking havoc across Australia. According to the National Environment Protection Agency (EPA), the air quality has been rated as ‘very poor’ since 5am local time. Prior to that, it had a rating of hazardous.

As a result of the conditions, there was a 90-minute delay to the start of the qualifying tournament. However, when the play got underway, some players still struggled in the conditions. The biggest victim was world No.180 Dalila Jakupovic, who was forced to retire from her match after having a coughing fit that forced her to drop to the ground. The Slovenian had a 6-4, 5-6, lead over 11th seed Stefanie Vögele before the match was halted.

“I was really scared that I would collapse. That’s why I went onto the floor because I couldn’t walk anymore,” Jakupovic told The Western Australian.
“I don’t have asthma and never had breathing problems. I actually like heat.
“The physio came again and I thought it would be better. But the points were a bit longer and I just couldn’t breathe anymore and I just fell on the floor.”

The former top 70 player has hit out at organisers for allowing matches to take place in the haze. Last week the Australian Open confirmed they have contingency plans in place should the air quality get dangerous. Their plans include moving matches indoors. Tennis Australian CEO Craig Tiley has stated that the health of players and fans is his ‘priority at all times.’

“It’s not healthy for us. I was surprised, I thought we would not be playing today but we don’t have much choice.”Jakupovic stated.

Another to struggle in qualifying was Bernard Tomic, who crashed out 7-6(4), 6-3, to Denis Kudla. During the match, the Australian took a medical time out after complaining of breathing difficulties during the early stages of the second set.

“No air is going in. I’m getting tired so easy,” Tomic was heard telling medical staff.
“Is anyone else complaining today?”
“No, it’s been okay,” said the medic.

Eugenie Bouchard has insisted that there needs to be an ‘air quality rule’ implemented to protect the health of players on the tour. The former Wimbledon finalist received multiple timeouts during her match against China’s You Xiaodi, which lasted almost three hours. The Canadian prevailed 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-1.

“I felt like it was tough to breathe and a bit nauseous,” Bouchard said. “I felt like the conditions got worse as the match went on…but I was out there for a long time. As an athlete we want to be very careful, our physical health is one of the most important things. It’s not ideal to play in these conditions. Just like the heat rule, there should be an air quality rule.”

At the same time matches were played at the grand slam venue, Maria Sharapova’s clash with Laura Siegemung at the Kooyong Classic was stopped after she said she felt a cough coming on. Her opponent also struggled with the conditions. The venue of where Sharapova played her match is less than 8km away from Melbourne Park.

“I started feeling a cough coming toward the end of the second set but I’ve been sick for a few weeks so I thought that had something to do with it,” Sharapova told SBS after the match.
“But then I heard Laura speak to the umpire and she said she was struggling with it as well.
“We were out there for over two hours so from a health stand point it’s the right call from officials.”

Elina Svitolina, who will be a top five seed in the women’s draw at the Australian Open, is another player to hit out at officials. Voicing her concerns in a social media post.

https://twitter.com/ElinaSvitolina/status/1216944323004190720

Amidst the outcry from many on the tour, tournament director Tiley has insisted that enough is being done to protect the welfare of players. Telling reporters that Tennis Australia is looking at conditions on a ‘day-by-day basis.’

“We will just take it a day at a time. We have mitigating circumstances that we have put into place to protect the health and wellbeing of players. We will make any decision that we need to make relative to that.” He said.

There appears to be no let up in the current conditions. According to the EPA, the air quality will range between ‘very poor and hazardous’ on Wednesday.

Breakdown of EPA’s air quality classifications

  • Good – It’s a good day to be outside.
  • Moderate – The air quality is okay, but it could change soon. It’s okay to be outside but watch for changes in air quality around you.
  • Poor – The air is probably dusty or smoky. Sensitive groups may experience symptoms like coughing or shortness of breath.
  • Very poor – The air is probably very dusty or smoky. Everyone could be experiencing symptoms like coughing or shortness of breath.
  • Hazardous – The air is probably extremely dusty or smoky. Everyone could be experiencing symptoms like coughing or shortness of breath.

Grand Slam

EXCLUSIVE: Ana Ivanovic’s 2024 French Open Picks

The former world No.1 tells Ubitennis her favourites for this year’s title, what underdogs to look out for and speaks about Dominic Thiem’s farewell.

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Ana Ivanovic pictured with the 2008 French Open trophy (image via https://x.com/anaivanovic)

16 years have passed since Ana Ivanovic was the player lifting the French Open trophy. 

In 2008, the Serbian socred back-to-back wins over Jelena Jankovic and Dinara Safina en route to the first and only Grand Slam title of her career. At the French Open, Ivanovic won more matches (37) than at any other major event and was also runner-up in 2007 to Justine Henin. 

Now retired from the sport, the 36-year-old continues to keep an eye on what is happening on the Tour in both the men’s and women’s events. So what does she think about this year’s French Open? 

The women’s draw – Is the title Swiatek’s to lose?

Iga Swiatek is targeting a fourth title in Paris which would make her only the fourth female player to achieve this milestone in the Open Era. The Pole is currently on a 12-match winning streak after claiming titles in Madrid and Rome. As for those who are the biggest threat to her, Ivanovic has two names in her mind. 

“I think the biggest threat is Ayna Sabalenka – they (her and Swiatek) played an amazing match in Madrid. It was a very tight one. And Elena Rybakina even though clay is probably not her favourite surface,” Ivanovic tells Ubitennis via email. 

Another player Ivanovic tips as a dark horse is Danielle Collins, who is playing the last season of her career. Since January she already rocketed up the rankings from 54th position to 12th, winning the biggest trophy of her career in Miami. On clay, she won the Charleston Open and more recently reached the semi-finals in Rome. 

“Danielle Collins had an amazing tournament winning back-to-back Miami and Charleston and also playing well in Rome again. I think she is a dark horse for the French Open.” She said.
“She seems to play very freely and enjoy herself out there. She has been in very good form this year, winning a lot of matches. She has a big chance to come far into the second week of the French Open.”

The last player ranked outside the top 10 to win Paris was Barbora Krejcikova in 2021 and the last American to do so was Serena Williams in 2015. 

As for other contenders, Ivanovic hopes a rising star of the sport will perform well. 

“I think now in women’s tennis we see more similar faces in the semifinals and finals. But I would really like to see Mirra Andreeva go far.” She commented about the Russian 17-year-old, who is currently ranked 38th in the world. 

The men’s draw – will Djokovic regain his form in time?

It can be argued with good reason that the men’s draw is the most open it has been in recent editions. Defending champion Novak Djokovic is still to win a title this year and experienced a turbulent time in Rome where he received a blow to the head during a freak accident. Meanwhile, Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz have been hindered by injury setbacks in recent weeks with both of them missing the last Masters event. 

“There have been a lot of new players in the last few weeks reaching far in the tournaments and beating some top players,” Ivanovic said about the state of men’s tennis.
So we are going to see many new faces on the men’s side. Of course Novak is still the strongest contestant for the title, but also Alcaraz and Sinner.”
“Novak had a little bit tougher clay court season so far than usual, but I think he is for sure peaking his full form for the French Open.”

As for the ‘strongest contestant’, the former world No.1 picks Djokovic and Alcaraz. Although there is a chance of a new Grand Slam champion. So who would Ivanovic pick for glory out of Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Casper Ruud?

“Out of the other 3, I would pick Zverev as the highest chance to win the French Open.” She replied.

Thiem’s Paris Swamsong 

Beside chasing for glory, one of the storylines of this year’s event will be the depature of Dominic Thiem who will play in Roland Garros for the last time before retiring later this year. The two-time finalist is playing in the qualifying draw after being controversially denied a wildcard. Whilst some ruled the decision as unfair, Thiem later said he has no hard feelings. 

“Honestly I had a long time to be in a good ranking,” he told reporters earlier this week. “I had enough tournaments and enough time to climb up the ranking and I didn’t do it, so I kind of didn’t deserve it and that’s fine. I had 10 main draw appearances in the last years so that’s more than enough.”

The former US Open champion has been praised by Ivanovic who says it is ‘always great’ to watch him play. Ivanovic played her last Tour-level match in 2016 which was the same year Thiem reached his first of four French Open semi-finals. 

“Dominic had a great career and it’s been always great to watch him play,” she said. 
“It has been very unfortunate with his injuries the last years so it has been tough years for him. I really hope he can do well at the French Open and has a nice farewell.”

During her career, Ivanovic played in 48 Grand Slam main draws and won 15 WTA titles. She held the No.1 ranking for 12 weeks during 2008. 

The French Open main draw will get underway on Sunday. 

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ATP

Novak Djokovic Confident Of Peaking At French Open As 14-Time Champ Nadal Ponders One Last Hurrah

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Credit Francesca Micheli/Ubitennis

Novak Djokovic believes he is on the right track to reaching his best form at the French Open despite missing two out of the last three Masters events.

The world No.1 returns to action this week in Rome at the Italian Open which he is seeking to win for the seventh time in his career. Djokovic last played on the Tour on April 13th when he lost in the semi-finals of the Monte Carlo Open to Casper Ruud. So far this season he has won 11 out of 15 matches played.

After opting to skip Madrid to rest his body, the revitalised Serbian told reporters on Wednesday that he is raring to go ahead of what will be a packed summer. Besides two Grand Slam events, he will also be chasing after his first-ever Olympic gold medal in Paris. 

“I had plenty of time to also rest and train. Had a good training block.” Said Djokovic.
“I think I’m on a good route to peak at Roland Garros in Paris. Hopefully, in Rome, I can play better than I did in Monte Carlo. The wish is always to go far. But let’s see. 
“It’s a different concept now. It’s the first time that Rome and Madrid are almost two-week events, like Indian Wells and Miami. It gives you more time to recover between matches if you keep going in the tournament, which I think is useful for me.”

In recent weeks Djokovic has also seen changes in his team following the departure of coach Goran Ivanisevic. More recently, he stopped working with fitness coach Marco Panichi and has now rehired his former longtime trainer Gebhard Gritsch.

“I am working currently with a fitness coach that I worked with for many years. It didn’t take much time to adapt to his program and approach,” Djokovic explained.
“We know each other really well. That’s why I feel like we’re synchronized from the very beginning in terms of what we want to do, how we want to approach the program of training on and off the court. 
“I’m pleased with the way the last 10 days, 14 days went in terms of training, in terms of preparation and looking ahead to this tournament, but particularly Roland Garros, Wimbledon and Olympic Games. That’s the block for which we are preparing the most.”

Nadal continues goodbye Tour

Embed from Getty Images

Whilst 24-time major winner Djokovic is already planning for the next major, one of his nemesis is yet to commit to playing.

Rafael Nadal will continue what many view as a farewell Tour in Rome where he will be unseeded in the draw. At his most recent tournament in Madrid, the Spaniard beat top 10 player Alex de Minaur en route to the third round. Shortly after his run, the 37-year-old confirmed that it would be the last time he played there. 

“I can’t have a clear answer,” Nadal replied when asked how he feels about potentially playing his last French Open in 2024. 
“First of all, I want to play Rome. I don’t think after that. If after that I feel ready to play Roland Garros, I cannot predict what kind of emotions I going to have there.
“I just want to enjoy every day. I am enjoying playing tennis. It always depends on my body how far I can keep going in terms of timing. I am happy doing what I’m doing. 
“When I’m talking about retirement it is not because I’m not happy anymore playing tennis or I’m not feeling myself competitive enough. That’s not the case. It’s about the body was not able to play weeks in a row and was not able to allow me to practice on a daily basis.”
“Now is my third week on the tour almost in a row, so… It’s a good moment, even if the results are not what used to be. But I am increasing my level. I want to keep going.”

Unlike Djokovic, Nadal doesn’t have a first round bye in Italy and will begin his campaign against qualifier Zizou Bergs. Compared to previous years he will be more of an underdog in the draw. A role he is taking in his stride.

“All the matches are tough for me today and more unpredictable than what the matches used to be for me, especially on clay.” He said.
“I accept that role. I accept that challenge. I am excited about the way that I can be able to play if I keep working the proper way and my body allows me.”

Djokovic and Nadal are currently ranked in the top two on the all-time list when it comes to most Masters titles won. Djokovic leads with 40 trophies ahead of his opponent who is on 36. 

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Grand Slam

Australian Open Considering Switching Women’s Final To Sunday In Future

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The Australian Open could become the first Grand Slam to break away from the tradition of women playing their singles final first. 

According to a report from the Australian Associated Press, tournament chief Craig Tiley is open to making such a move which wouldn’t require any approval from either the WTA or ATP. However, they would likely need to consult with players first and no changes are set to be made in 2025. 

The reasoning for making such a change is due to the women’s final usually being shorter than the men’s best with it being a best-of-three set match. Compared to the men who play the best-of-five. Their thinking is that due to the length of men’s matches increasing in recent years, staging it on a Saturday would enable more people to watch the entire match compred to a Sunday when many are consious about staying up late due to the working week starting on Monday. 

This year’s Australian Open saw Jannik Sinner bounce back from two sets down to beat Daniil Medvedev in a epic encounter that lasted three hours and 46 minuites. Meanwhile, Aryna Sabalenka required an hour and 17 mnuites to beat China’s Qinwen Zheng and capture the title. 

Should such a switch take place, it is estimated that the Sunday finale would end at around 10:30pm local time instead of after midnight, which would make it more appealing to fans. Furthermore, it could throw the women’s final more into the spotlight. 

However, there will be obstacles that need to be addressed. The most significant for the Australian Open will be trying to ensure that their 48-hour recovery period between best-of-five-set men’s matches will still be followed. 

This year was the first time in history that the Melbourne major took place over 15 days with play starting on a Sunday. Organisers claimed that the move was done in order to prevent the number of late-night finishes. However, it has little effect on any matches that took place after the first round. 

It is throught that now the event is held over 15 days, it gives more room for organisers to schedule the men’s final for a Saturday. The proposal was discussed during this year’s Australian Open’s official debrief. 

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