‘I couldn’t breathe’: Bushfire smoke brings chaos to Australian Open

Players collapsing on court and fans in face masks: the smoke from raging bushfires brought chaos to the early stages of the Australian Open this week but organisers are pressing on with the tournament, a move that has drawn criticism from participants and the public.

Toxic haze from the fires, which have burnt 10 million hectares of land has descended on Melbourne raising pollution air pollution to "hazardous" levels.

The Australian Open is due to start in the city on January 2, but qualifying rounds have been taking place this week

On Tuesday, Slovenian Dalila Jakupovic collapsed to her knees and was forced to retire after struggling to breathe amid the haze.

“It was really scary, I couldn't breathe, I didn't know what to do, I had a feeling like I'm going to collapse on the court,” Jakupovic said.

On Wednesday, play was delayed for the second day in a row with conditions deemed too dangerous, before a rainstorm saw matches suspended.

Nevertheless, organisers plan to push on with the tournament as scheduled, saying they are closely monitoring air quality and health risks in order to suspend play when necessary.

But some players have criticised the decision to let play go ahead at all.

"They're just trying to shove us on the court because we're qualifiers,” said Canadian world number 103 Brayden Schnur, describing conditions as “100 percent not normal”.