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Williams seeks 24th Grand Slam amid ‘breathing problems’ in Australia

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Serena Williams of the US (2/L) shares a lighter moment with Naomi Osaka of Japan (L), Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark (2/R) and Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece (R) as they and other top players play in the Rally for Relief charity tennis match in support of the victims of the Australian bushfires, in Melbourne of January 15, 2020, ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament. (Photo by WILLIAM WEST / AFP)

Jakupovic quits over poor air condition

Serena Williams is the firm favourite to win the Australian Open as she again bids for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title.

The 38-year-old American is aiming to match the record set in 1973 by Australia’s Margaret Court, who will be recognised at the tournament on the 50th anniversary of her calendar Grand Slam.

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Old guard Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and Roger Federer are still expected to be the men to beat in Melbourne, while Britain’s former world number one Andy Murray is missing because of a pelvic injury.

The first Grand Slam of the 2020 season is set to go ahead as planned, despite the backdrop of raging bushfires that have devastated parts of Australia.

For the eighth time in the past 10 Grand Slams, three-time major champion Andy Murray is unavailable to lead British hopes.

Murray, 32, was hoping to make a poignant return to Melbourne – where he tearfully admitted last January he thought his career was coming to an end because of chronic hip pain.

Since then, the Scot has had “life-changing” hip surgery, returned to competitive action and won ATP Tour titles in singles and doubles events.

Meanwhile, Dalila Jakupovic, who retired from her Australian Open qualifying match because of the air quality, says every player she has spoken to had “headaches and problems breathing”.

The Slovenian, 28, had to be helped off the court after suffering a coughing fit in her first-round match in Melbourne.

Wednesday’s qualifying was delayed because of the “very poor” air quality from the ongoing bushfire crisis.

“It was very dangerous to play in those conditions yesterday,” said Jakupovic.

Canadian Eugenie Bouchard had to leave court to receive treatment after complaining of a sore chest during her first-round match.

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Australia’s Bernard Tomic also had treatment on court and Maria Sharapova of Russia’s exhibition match in Kooyong in the east of the city was called off.

Yesterday’s qualifying resumed after a three-hour delay but heavy rain meant matches were ultimately suspended for the day.

“I think all of the players yesterday suffered more than the ones playing today because not all matches are going to be finished today,” Jakupovic told BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast.

“Yesterday, whoever we talk to, all the players had headaches, were feeling chest pains, had problems breathing. It was horrible.”

At least 28 people have died and an estimated 10 million hectares (100,000 sq km) of land in Australia has burned since 1 July.

People in Melbourne were advised to stay indoors on Tuesday, while spectators at Melbourne Park wore breathing masks.

Jakupovic said she did not have asthma and had not had breathing problems before.

“I’ve never experienced anything like this.”

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