The organisers of next month’s Australian Open have come under fire after 47 players – including British No 2 Heather Watson – found themselves in a new and stricter form of lockdown at their Melbourne hotels.
There was an outcry from those affected, who will no longer be able to leave the hotel for training – as previously promised – because three of their fellow travellers to Australia had tested positive for Covid-19.
In one reported incident, players were said to have broken out of their rooms in protest. According to the Italian journalist Luca Fiorino, security guards warned the culprits that if they did so again then they would be deported from Australia.
Many players feel it is unjust that a handful of elite stars – including Naomi Osaka, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal – are not in Melbourne at all, but have flown to Adelaide, where they are enjoying far more relaxed and flexible conditions than the rank and file.
“[Daniil] Medvedev and [Alexander] Zverev, for example, were only allowed to take two support staff with them,” said the Austrian doubles player Philipp Oswald, in an interview with Tennisnet.com. “While [Dominic] Thiem, Nadal and Djokovic each came with ten people.”
For those lucky players in Melbourne whose incoming flights were free of any positive tests, practice will start late on Sunday afternoon, Australian time. Around 370 players are believed to have flown in, and the majority will continue with the intended plan of a five-hour daily window in which they may leave the hotel, spending two hours on the practice courts and 90 minutes in the gym.
But for those who travelled on the two affected planes – one from Los Angeles and the other from Abu Dhabi – the next two weeks will have to be spent exclusively inside their rooms.
Many of these players expressed their dismay on social media, only to be told by equally angry respondents – especially Melburnians, who fear that the influx of 1,270 tennis-related travellers could trigger a new outbreak – that they were behaving in an entitled and arrogant manner.
But world No 99 Marta Kostyuk put the other side of the argument well in an Instagram Live chat with fellow player Paula Badosa. “It’s about the idea of staying in one room for two weeks and then being able to compete after,” said Kostyuk. “I don’t remember the last time I stopped practising for two weeks. If you fail to compete well, you will get so many comments saying: ‘You don’t practise.’”
For Yulia Putintseva, the world No 28 who plays under the Kazakh flag, the prospect of a full quarantine was made even worse by the mouse running around her hotel room, which she captured on video and then posted on social media. “Been trying to change the room for a 2 hours already!” Putintseva tweeted. “And no one came to help due to quarantine situation.”
Sylvain Bruneau, the Canadian coach who works with 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu, posted a statement identifying himself as the person on the Los Angeles flight who had tested positive.
He emphasised that he had followed all necessary protocols while travelling to Melbourne from the Middle East and added: “I am extremely saddened and sorry for the consequences now on everyone’s shoulders.”
On the Abu Dhabi flight, the two positive cases involved one member of the crew and one non-tennis traveller.
Several players complained that they had not expected such situations to necessitate every other traveller on the plane to be quarantined, especially as these charter flights were all kept less than 20 per cent full.
Putintseva tweeted that, had she been warned of this rule: “I would think twice about coming here.”
Unless Tennis Australia can find some unexpected solution, the 47 players will come out of quarantine at the end of the month, just over a week before the start of the Australian Open on Feb 8.