Djokovic Warming Up Down Under Amidst Australian Bushfires

Novak Djokovic progressed into the second round of the Australian Open, with the only weather causing disruption on day one being rain, not smoke.

The reigning champion won in the Rod Laver Arena in four sets, 7-6, 6-2, 2-6, 6-1 which made his record at this grand slam a staggering 69 wins and only eight losses.

Djokovic took the first set 7-6 in a 7-5 tie-break. However, this does not tell the story of the set. 

The world number two went 5-2 up originally before Jan-Lennard Struff broke back to bring it to 5-5, having forced the rigidly consistent Serb into several unforced errors.

Djokovic was finished messing around after the first set. He immediately broke Struff in the second set. He later broke the German again with some sublime shots to go 5-2 up, before he quickly won the set 6-2.

The world number 37 showed fight as he took the third set 6-2. He broke the seven-time Australian Open champion three times before Djokovic double faulted to take the game into a fourth set. This was the first set Struff had ever won against Djokovic.

This was unable to faze the Serbian who showed champion-like nature to win the fourth set and proceed into the second round.

Struff had only come back from two sets down three times in his career but he was unable to make it a fourth despite having played some incredible tennis.

Germany’s men’s number two made consecutive double faults at the start of the fourth set as Djokovic immediately broke. He broke again late on as Struff had clearly emptied the tank to win the third set, as the fourth ended 6-1. 

Tournament officials face a potential environmental crisis as a result of Australia’s ongoing bushfires, however there were no signs of disruption of play due to the air-quality on day one. 

Prior to the tournament, there had been concerns for the safety of players at the grand slam as a result of the on-going Australian wildfires that have been ongoing since September 2019, which has destroyed more than 6.3 million hectares so far.

Djokovic himself told reporters that he put air-quality considerations on the agenda at the annual player meeting that precedes the tournament. 

After smoke from the fires interrupted the qualifiers for the Australian Open, officials were forced to implement new health and safety policies.

The Air Quality Rating (AQI) consists of five bands. Play will be allowed to continue under the first three bands, ‘good’ which is below 27 particulate matter, ‘moderate’ which is between 27-62pm, and ‘air may affect sensitive groups’ which is between 62-97pm. 

If the levels increase from 97-200pm, then the match may be suspended, although that decision is down to the tournament referee. If the rating is in the fifth band, more than 200pm, than play will automatically be suspended. 

The AQI reading on Monday morning, one week before the tournament started, was 427pm from the station closest to the Rod Laver Arena, which is considered ‘hazardous’, according to ESPN.

Tennis Australia have said that when it becomes obvious that smoke could have an impact, officials are prepared to act for the welfare of all involved, including players, fans and staff. 

They also said they will work with their medical team, the Bureau of Meteorology and Environment Protection Authority Victoria scientists when making decisions about whether it’s healthy to play. 

The publication of this policy came three days after tournament organisers were majorly criticised for allowing play to continue during the qualifying event when a number of players complained about conditions and breathing difficulties. 

Slovenian women’s single player, Dalila Jakupovic, collapsed from a coughing fit on Tuesday at the Australian Open qualifiers which forced her to retire from her match. Australia’s Bernard Tomic also sought medical treatment during his first-round loss as he struggled to breathe.

This came after the first two days of qualifying were delayed as smoke blanketed Melbourne on Wednesday. Last Tuesday, Melbourne’s air quality was officially ranked the third-worst in the world. 

Both the ATP and WTA are leaving decisions about playing conditions in the hands of Tennis Australia. However, the decision of whether to stop play will still largely be at the discretion of the tournament referee. 

Many players have donated and will continue to donate towards helping stop the Australian fires. Australian tennis star, Nick Kyrgios, pledged to donate $200 for every ace he hit during the ATP Cup. He hit 69 aces which alone earned $13,800. 

Serena Williams donated her $43,000 ASB Classic winner’s check to Australian wildfires victims. The ATP donated $725,000 on behalf of the players, and the ITF will contribute an additional $400,000.

Kyrgios, Djokovic and many other big names also took part in the Rally for Relief; the Tennis Australia fundraising exhibition. According to Tennis Australia, the event raised nearly $5 million for the bushfire relief effort. During the event, Rafael Nadal announced that he and Roger Federer would combine to donate $250,000.

Nine matches were suspended before Djokovic entered play. However this was because of heavy rainfall, not due not as a result of the fires. This included Federer, who was able to eventually continue and move into the second round.

Djokovic has only exited the tournament before the quarter-finals twice and looks on course to maintain that record.

The Serbian will play the winner between Japan’s Tatsuma Ito and India’s Prajnesh Gunneswaran, as he hopes to win his eighth Australian Open which would take his grand slam total to 17, two behind Nadal.

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