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'We understand the anger': Tiley tries to calm furious players at Australian Open | Sport

The troubled 2020 Australian Open will start and finish on time, even if matches have to be moved from the exposed outside courts under the cover of the three main stadiums to escape the choking effects of bushfire-polluted air, according to the tournament director, Craig Tiley.

Responding on Thursday to concerns raised by several players who have suffered with respiratory problems during qualifying matches this week, Tiley said: “There is a lot of speculation about the Australian Open not happening. The Australian Open is happening.”

Tiley, who is also chief executive officer of Tennis Australia and one of the sport’s most influential powerbrokers, was coming to the conversation after it hit crisis level, as one player collapsed on court on day one of qualifying and others, including Britain’s Liam Broady, complained loudly that their health was being compromised playing in conditions that were perceived as a threat to other sections of the public.

“The more I think about the conditions we played in a few days ago, the more it boils my blood,” Broady wrote on social media. “On tour we let so many things go that aren’t right but, at some point, we have to make a stand. All players need protection, not just a select few.”

Liam Broady

We can’t let this go. @VasekPospisil @DreddyTennis @Jay27798 @sventennis @hotdog6969 @GBtennis @NaomiBroady pic.twitter.com/KYxSW2kP2I

January 15, 2020

The Canadians, Eugenie Bouchard and Brayden Schnur, were similarly vocal. Schnur, who experienced “super dryness‚“ in his throat while playing on Wednesday, said Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal should do more to protect the interests of lower-ranked players.

“It’s got to come from the top guys,” he said. “Roger and Rafa are a little bit selfish in thinking about themselves and their careers.”

Nicolas Mahut, the Marathon Man of Wimbledon legend, posted a photo of himself on Instagram wearing a mask, captioned: “Ready for my first round.”

Vasek Pospisil, another outspoken Canadian, said: “It’s time for a players’ union. This is getting absurd.” That will resonate with a lot of players, chief among them Pospisil’s political ally, Novak Djokovic, whose heartfelt wish as president of the ATP players council it has been for a long time.

Others to suffer and speak out have included the Slovenian Dalila Jakupovic, who collapsed and quit after an uncontrollable coughing fit, and Dustin Brown, who received medical treatment and said the courtside doctor told him he had “a virus coming on”. Brown, who once inquired about playing Davis Cup for Great Britain, commented on Twitter: “In 35 years it’s the first time I had to use an asthma spray to help me breathe better.”

Dustin Brown

„I Have A Virus Coming On“ I Was Told By The Doctor On Court… In 35 Years, Its The 1st Time I Had 2 Use An Asthma Spray 2 Help Me Breathe Better… #WellSaidLiam🤜🏻🤛🏾 https://t.co/AUHUcN3jwV

January 15, 2020

Black humour, anger and frustration aside, Tiley said he understood the players’ concerns and had met several of them, as well as their board representatives. The confusion, he claimed, arose from the existence of different metrics to measure air quality.

He said the tournament had engaged a wide range of respected opinion, under the direction of the Environmental Protection Authority and with the guidance of the Australian Institute of Sport.

“Air quality is a very complex and confusing issue,” Tiley said. “It’s made more complex and is more confusing by going on an app, because there are different apps and websites that will give you different readings.

“We’ve been through the journey on extreme heat and we know when players respond to extreme heat, it’s in many different ways. We’ve had conditions where players have pulled out of matches. I do think air quality for sport and for tennis is a conversation we’re going to have more of in the future. It is potentially the new normal.

“We’ve done the best we can in communicating with the [men’s and women’s] tours. One thing I can say is this is about trusting the medical advice and the scientific advice. We care deeply about the players. I met with Dalila the same day, we’re going to have a follow-up catch-up tomorrow and just reiterate if there’s anything we can do and making sure she’s seeing the medical team and making sure she’s being taken care of.

“Absolutely we understand the anger. We’ve invited the players to come in at any time and have a conversation. Our medical team were satisfied with the condition in which the players were competing as per all the research and the data and the science they have, but they also make an assessment. You could have been two hours into those matches and 25 people presenting themselves with a medical condition that may be related to the pollutants. If that’s the case, inform me, we stop.”

Tiley is adamant the tournament will start on time on Monday, and will finish on time on Sunday 2 February. “We have three environments in which we can complete it,” he said, referring to the roof cover available on Rod Laver, Margaret Court and Melbourne Arena. “It may look differently, but it will happen.”

On the prospect of moving players from scheduled matches on the uncovered outside courts, he said, “If we had to work it out, we would. And we don’t expect that to happen because we as yet haven’t seen anywhere else in the world where there has been above that [danger level] 200 on the PM2.5 Concentrate [metric] consecutively over two weeks.”

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As reassuring as these promises appear, there will be lingering worries among players, as well as the parents and families of young ballkids, and the officials. The perception outside the Melbourne bubble remains sceptical and worried.

Speaking before Tiley’s latest explanation but after talking to him on ESPN.com, John McEnroe said: “This is a terrible situation down there, and I firmly believe they’re worried about the fans and the players. But it would be extremely difficult to envision, at least to me at this point, that they’re going to not play or move the dates.”

He added: “I don’t think anyone has an easy answer, whether it’s the players or the tournament organisers or the government of Australia. This is something that hasn’t been experienced. They have fires all the time in Australia. That’s an issue. But this is the worst it’s ever been.”

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