No soft launch for Australian Open as Melbourne chokes on smoke | Jonathan Howcroft

Stifling air quality stigmatized qualifying for 2020 s firstly fling, ceasing hopes for some of a season-changing, main-draw place

The year’s grand slam action came under way on Tuesday at a Melbourne Park wreathed in poisonous shadow. Organisers of the Australian Open delayed the start of play by an hour but that was still not enough to avoid the nightmare scenario of a participate on their knees hacking in discomfort and short of breath. This is an event that sells itself to the world as the fortunate slam.

Qualifying rounds is required to provide a grand slam with a soft propel. Not this year.

Abruptly, Craig Tiley was rotated in front of the press and asked to explain why contestants should expect to push themselves to their limits on a day when the state’s Environment Protection Authority cautioned the breeze caliber would be hazardous as a consequence of the bushfires raging across Victoria and New South Wales. The refutes were sound, evidence-based, and predicated on medical admonition. And they were undermined within four hours when Slovenian Dalila Jakupovic retired in distress.

For musicians like Jakupovic- ranked frequently outside the top-1 00- grand slam qualifiers can be season changing, life varying even. Had she reached the main draw the Slovenian would have been in line for $ 90,000 in prize money, even for a first round win. For context, Serena Williams deserved merely $43,000 for acquire the recent Auckland Open. Jakupovic’s occupation earnings average out to around $90,000 per year on the professional circuit.

Tennis masters are belatedly turning their attention to the lower reachings of the professional game in a bid to increase the number of athletes for whom the play is a viable career choice. The Australian Open is a case in point, increasing its overall loot reserve by 13.6% this year but raising the bar for first round fatalities by 20%.

For all players, costs are high. Coaches, physiotherapists, rig, intercontinental flights and accommodation don’t come cheap, and there is no guarantee of a payday to cover all outlays. There’s an proof to be made that the accumulation of grand slams into so few pass on the men’s circuitcan be attributed in part to the wealth disparity between the best and the rest.

A thought of the city skyline shrouded by smoking mist. Photograph: Stringer/ Reuters

Max Purcell is one player still daring to dream. The 21 -year-old Sydneysider is a former double-dealings partner of Alex de Minaur and in 2016 became the second lowest-ranked player to acquire a second-tier ATP Challenger title in 16 years.

He was a popular winner on Tuesday, combating beyond Argentinian Andrea Collarini in three sets on Court 5, a venue offering precisely one bank of benches with the majority goals interrupted by a row of stately pink-hued ghost gums.” Qualies fund is great” Purcell said afterwards.” It’s $32,500 just earning that pair and it rectifies me up for the rest of the year in terms of affording a tutor, and hopefully a physio “.

Purcell is now merely two winnings away from the primary outline and opportunities of a dream evening under daybreaks on one of the picture courts. If he does, he will captivate the public’s thought. He has a square-jaw, shoulders like a cable coathanger and he boasts a thick-witted graze of blonde surfer’s mane that’s vulpinely for his baseball detonator to handle. He maintains a Dunlop racket, just like Rod Laver did. He is fair dinkum.

Max Purcell represented his space through the smoke and into the second round of qualifying. Photograph: Daniel Pockett/ Getty Images

Qualifiers too furnish space to move around the precinct before the lawns are colonised by empty-bellied Pimm’s glass and mobs jostle for a perch to snoop a household name. The reinforces is feasible to unexpected, like slipping into the flock of Colombian supporters sparkling in Los Cafeteros yellow while they cheer teenage hope Maria Camilla Osorio Serrano to victory.

Eugenie Bouchard has arrived in previous years with her own army in trawl, but this year she was forced to slum it on Show Court Two in front of a couple of hundred intrepid feelings protecting from the midday heat. Bouchard eventually combated her lane beyond You Xiaodi but the lasting image is of the onetime Wimbledon finalist doubled-over in pain complaining of a sore dresser. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

But perhaps that will be the catchcry of Australian Open 2020. An phenomenon synonymous with daring primary colours, in the sky and on the court of accounts, at risk of being stifled by a pea-souper. It wasn’t supposed to be like this, especially not on day one , not before the rest of the world had even woken up.

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