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Player quits Australian Open after coughing fit in smoke-clogged air

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Image: The city skyline shrouded by smoke haze from bushfires during an Aus
The city skyline shrouded by smoke haze from bush fires during an Australian Open practice session at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia, on Tuesday.   -  
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A tennis player abandoned a Australian Open qualifying match on Tuesday after dropping to her knees in a coughing fit as smoke from catastrophic wildfires clogged the air.

"I was really scared that I would collapse," Slovenian Dalila Jakupovic told the Associated Press. "I never had breathing problems. I actually like heat. But ... I just couldn't breathe anymore and I just fell on the floor."

Jakupovic said it was "not fair" she'd been asked to play.

A thick haze enveloped Melbourne on the first day of Australian Open qualifying Tuesday as smoke from raging wildfiresdrifted over Australia's southeast.

Victoria state's Chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton, said in a press conference Tuesday the air quality in Melbourne was in the "very poor" to "hazardous" range, and was "the worst in the world" overnight.

Residents were advised to stay indoors and keep windows closed.

Australian Open said in a statement it will be consulting its medical team, meteorology bureau and scientists from the state's environmental protection agency to make any further decisions about the matches.

But organizers faced criticism online, including from some players, for allowing the matches to go ahead.

"This is a new experience for all of us in how we manage air quality, so we have to listen to the experts," Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley was quoted as saying by Australia's Sydney Morning Herald.

At the Kooyong Classic exhibition event, also held in Melbourne, Russia's former No. 1 Maria Sharapova also struggled in the heat and smoke before her match was called off in the second set.

Predictions are for air quality to remain poor until Wednesday night.

Main action at the Australian Open starts on Jan. 20.

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