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Australian Open: 47 players forced into strict quarantine after COVID-19 positives on flights

Cassandra Negley
·Writer
·6-min read

A total 47 players from two chartered flights who flew the Australian Open on Friday are required to stay in their hotel rooms for 14 days — unable to train for the competition — because of positive COVID-19 tests on their flights.

The group reportedly includes two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka and former U.S. Open winner Sloane Stephens. They will be out of quarantine on Jan. 29 at the earliest. The tournament, pushed back from its standard start, will begin on Feb. 8 with the draw starting Feb. 4.

Andreescu’s coach tests positive for COVID-19

Update (1:22 p.m.): The quarantined players also includes Canadian Bianca Andreescu, who currently ranks No. 7 in the world and hasn’t played since a knee injury at the WTA Finals in October 2019.

Sylvain Bruneau, Andreescu’s coach said Saturday he was one of the three who tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival, via TSN. He released a four-paragraph statement saying he followed all safety protocols and felt fine before boarding the plane in Abu Dhabi. He followed all COVID protocols while at the tournament there and said he doesn’t know where he could have been infected.

“I am extremely saddened and sorry for the consequences now on everyone’s shoulders sharing my flight,” he said, via TSN. "The rest of my team is negative and I sincerely hope that any further disruption is kept to a minimum.”

Andreescu, 20, is the highest ranked player known to be in the quarantined group. The former U.S. Open winner had planned to compete at the Melbourne Summer Series warmup from Jan. 31-Feb. 6 ahead of the Grand Slam. It would be her first event in 15 months.

COVID-19 positives from non-players disrupt training

An aircrew member and a passenger who is not a player tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in Melbourne, the tournament said. They were on a flight of 24 players and staff members flying from Los Angeles.

Another non-player passenger tested positive for COVID-19 on a flight from Abu Dhabi that had 23 players. There were 64 people in total on the flight, the tournament said in a statement.

Australia’s borders are closed, but country officials agreed to bring in approximately 1,200 players, officials and staff on 15 chartered flights to host the annual event. It took several months to come to a deal. Players and personnel were tested for COVID-19 before traveling.

The flights were at 25 percent capacity. Once a player returned a negative test within the country they were allowed to train in a strictly supervised environment for five hours per day.

The tournament tweeted on Saturday that there are “no active COVID-19 infections[s] in the entire tennis cohort based in Adelaide” for its exhibition event scheduled for Jan. 29.

The 2020 Australian Open was the last Grand Slam before the COVID-19 pandemic put sports on hiatus in March 2020 and shuffled international competition schedules.

Players will have two weeks quarantine, one week training

The players on the two flights “will not be able to leave their hotel rooms for 14 days until they are medically cleared,” the Australian Open said in a statement. “They will not be eligible to practice.”

The group will have one week to practice before the competition begins. That’s complicated by being in a small hotel room for two weeks.

After the first flight had a positive test, Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said in a statement:

“We are communicating with everyone on this flight, and particularly the playing group whose conditions have now changed, to ensure their needs are being catered to as much as possible, and that they are fully appraised of the situation.

“Our thoughts are with the two people who tested positive on the flight and we wish them well for their recovery.”

Players upset at quarantine situation

Sloane Stephens.
Sloane Stephens is reportedly one of the players who will have a strict quarantine for two weeks in Australia. (CLIVE BRUNSKILL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Impacted players voiced their displeasure at the situation on social media.

The group includes Uruguayan Pablo Cuevas, Mexico’s Santiago Gonzalez and New Zealander Artem Sitak. They all stated on social media they were on the flight from Los Angeles.

Stephens, Azarenka and Japan’s Kei Nishikori were reported as part of the flights by local media, per Reuters. Stephens tweeted on Thursday that her grandmother and aunt had died from COVID-19.

Britain’s Heather Watson shared the email telling her she’ll need to quarantine.

“Weeks and weeks of practice and hard work going to waste for one person positive to Covid in a 3/4 empty plane. Sorry but this is insane,” France’s Alize Cornet wrote in a since-deleted tweet.

She said she took it down because the replies were “getting too much for me.” She acknowledged it was a sensitive subject and the players are “privileged indeed, but please try to get our point of view too.” Cornet then shared a more positive outlook with a photo of the hotel.

Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens called the decision to quarantine everyone on the flights “Russian roulette,” per Reuters, while New Zealand’s Sitak also appeared to take a milder, more relaxed approach in an Instagram Story video.

“I asked for a bike, so hopefully I’ll get one and stay in shape, and we’ll probably be out on the 29th of January,” he said, via Reuters. He shared a photo while on the bike with “Getting ready for Tour de France 2035” with a laughing and shrug emoji.

Azarenka noted on Twitter that “if you have time to whine then you have time to find solution.”

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