As poor air disrupts Australian Open qualifiers, India’s Sumit Nagal forced to wait

Sumit Nagal during a practice session in Melbourne. (Source: Twitter)

India's Sumit Nagal saw his first round qualifying match at the Australian Open being rescheduled as the qualifiers were disrupted for a second successive day Wednesday due to poor air quality.

The 22-year-old Indian was scheduled to take on Egypt's Mohamed Safwat in the first round of the qualifiers, but smoke from wildfires that are blanketing Melbourne disrupted games. The match was rescheduled by organisers but it wasn't immediately clear when the match would be played.

The world no. 128, who won the Buenos Aires ATP Challenger in September last year, lost in his previous appearance in an Australian Open qualifier in 2018 where Italy's Alessandro Giannessi had bested him 7-6, 3-6, 6-3 in the first round.

Speaking to the Indian Express earlier, Nagal had said he had "never seen anything like this in the four times I’ve been here.”

Prajnesh Gunneswaran advanced to the second round of the Australian Open qualifiers after beating local wild card Harry Bourchier, but fellow Indian Ramkumar Ramanathan lost to Federico Coria.

On Wednesday, the organisers of the year's first Grand Slam said that practice sessions had been suspended at Melbourne Park until 11 AM (0000 GMT) and the qualifiers would not get underway until 1 PM. All matches were subsequently rescheduled. However, a charity event to raise funds to battle the bushfires - that featured top players like Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Venus Williams among others - was held despite the concerns over air quality.

After Slovenia's Dalila Jakupovic bowed out of her first-round qualifer against Stefanie Vogele due to a coughing fit, organisers were criticised for allowing the qualifiers to continue. The pollution associated with the devastating fires has raised fears for player safety at Melbourne Park, with the tournament starting on Monday.

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According to the governing body, play and practice at regional tournaments in Traralgon and Bendigo, along with a junior event at Royal Park in Melbourne, had also been suspended. Scheduled horse race meetings in two separate Melbourne suburbs were also cancelled on Wednesday, governing body Racing Victoria said, "due to smoke haze and poor air quality".

Australia is experiencing one of its worst bushfire seasons on record, with fires burning for months and claiming the lives of 28 people, destroying more than 2,500 homes and razing forests and farmland the size of Bulgaria.

(with Reuters inputs)