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Dart defies the poor air quality in Aussie quest

Marching on: Harriet Dart
Marching on: Harriet Dart

By Steve Simpson

Britain's Harriet Dart reached the second round of qualifying for the Australian Open, despite the poor air quality which forced one "really scared" player to quit.

Dart beat Bulgaria's World No.194 Elitsa Kostova 6-4 6-1 in 75 minutes to set up a meeting with American 15th seed Nicole Gibbs.

Qualifying was delayed by an hour yesterday and practice was temporarily suspended because of the air quality caused by ongoing bush fires, but several players reported breathing difficulties.

Slovenia's Dalila Jakupovic was forced to retire at 6-5 5-6 against Switzerland's Stefanie Voegel, the World No.180 being helped off the court after collapsing during a coughing fit.

"I was really scared that I would collapse. That's why I went onto the floor because I couldn't walk any more," Jakupovic said. "I don't have asthma and never had breathing problems. I actually like heat. The physio came again and I thought it would be better. But the points were a bit longer and I just couldn't breathe any more.

"It's not healthy for us. I was surprised, I thought we would not be playing but we don't have much choice."

Smoke haze caused by wildfires led the organisers to temporarily suspend practice sessions for the tournament yesterday, with qualifying beginning later in the morning following a delay.

"Further decisions will be made based on on-site data, and in close consultation with our medical team, the Bureau of Meteorology and scientists from EPA Victoria," a statement from organisers said.

"As always the health and safety of our players, our staff and our fans is our priority."

Victoria's Environment Protection Authority had warned that air quality in the state would range from moderate to hazardous because of wildfires that have been raging for months both in Victoria and the neighbouring New South Wales.

Dart's victory was a rare success for British players on day one, with Liam Broady, Jay Clarke and Naiktha Bains all suffering defeats.

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