Top Moments of 2020: Wildfire smoke disrupts Australian Open

Top Moments of 2020: Wildfire smoke disrupts Australian Open

It lingered in the air as Grand Slam tournament's qualifying event got underway.

2020 was a season like no other. Click here to review the top moments from the pandemic-ravaged year.

In retrospect, this may have been a sign that 2020 was shaping up to be a tennis season like no other. Wildfire smoke lingered in the air as Australian Open qualifying got underway, and Dalila Jakupovic knelt on the ground, coughing heavily in conditions officially recorded as hazardous levels.

She eventually retired from her first-round match on the verge of collapse, saying, "I couldn't walk any more. It's not healthy."

Several other players also had difficulties in the conditions, criticizing organizers for not delaying play. 

Smoke from regional bushfires had been a problem at Australian tune-up tournaments right from the start of the season, and Tennis Australia had even had to make alternative arrangements for holding the tournament if conditions became unplayable. 

They planned to move the competition indoors, using the three roofed arenas at Melbourne Park, along with the facility's several indoor courts. But even that ran into problems—players found the smaller indoor courts tended to become filled with smoke, creating even poorer air quality. The tournament was just a warm-air front away from being delayed or not played.

Luckily for the event, conditions improved and fires tapered off in the next few days, with fresh skies returning by the time play officially began. The initial uncertainty gave way to two weeks of exciting, hard-fought tennis, played in front of full crowds amid the bustling grounds.

In just a few weeks, such scenes would become hard to picture, turning the Australian Open into a throwback to normality. But even the Australian Open had barely happened. 

This season wasn't ever going to be anything like normal. It wasn't even at the start.