Australian bushfires spark activism at Australian Open


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The Australian Open commenced on Jan. 19 despite smoke engulfing Melbourne Arena as a result of the Australian bushfires. Many matches were affected leading players to donate parts of winnings to fire relief.

The Australian Open began on Sunday, Jan. 19, in spite of poor air quality caused by the Australian bushfires. Though the Melbourne Arena wasn’t directly affected by the fires, poor air quality still affected some players, inspiring activism in many.

World No. 180 Dalia Jakupovic suffered a severe coughing fit in her qualifying match against Stefanie Vögele and was forced to withdraw from her match. Jakupovic had never suffered from asthma or respiratory issues prior. She explained to The Guardian that she “was really scared that [she] was going to collapse.”

Other matches suffered delays and cancellations due to the heavy smoke. 5-time grand slam winner Maria Sharapova’s match against Germany’s Laura Siegemund was cancelled in the second set,  practice at Melbourne arena leading up to the tournament was suspended and the first round qualifying matches were delayed by over an hour. 

These occurrences made the smoke impossible to ignore causing many participants to take action. Players including Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal took action against the fires by donating parts of their winnings to fire relief efforts.

Australian Nick Kyrgios promised to donate $140 for every ace he hit in the tournament to bushfire recovery efforts. Similarly, John Isner vowed to donate $100 for each ace he served along with 25 percent of his winnings. His donations amounted to a total of $38,150.

No. 7 seed Alexander Zverev set himself apart by pledging to donate $10,000 for every match he won along with all of his prize money if he won the Grand Slam.

Zverev was defeated by No. 5 seed Dominic Thiem in the semi-final rounds but those that did win still ensured people understood what was important.

The Grand Slam final consisted of a battle between Thiem and Novak Djokovic. Though the match ended in a triumph for Djokovic, both players used their acceptance speeches for first and second in the tournament as a platform to inform the public of the devastation as well.

Djokovic drew attention to broader issues as he lifted his first-place trophy.

“There were some devastating things that started 2020 with huge bushfires here in Australia, conflicts in some parts of the world, people dying every day … I would just like to say that this is a reminder to all of us that we should stick together more than ever,” the now 17-time Grand Slam winner said.

Thiem, disappointed by his loss in the final match, was still able to put things in perspective.

It’s very tough what this beautiful country has been through, is still going through, so I think that the Australian Open [was] a great distraction, but I still hope that … a disaster like this never happens again.”