World number one Novak Djokovic kisses the Australian Open trophy following his victory against Austria's Dominic Thiem in the 2020 final. This year the top stars face the threat of sanctions if they breach stringent Covid-19 protocols Photo: AFP
tennis

Strict quarantine awaits world's top tennis stars in Australia

6 Comments
By William WEST

Tennis' top stars face the threat of sanctions if they breach stringent COVID-19 protocols when they arrive this week for an Australian Open deemed by its top boss as needing a "small miracle" to go off without a hitch.

The calendar's first Grand Slam normally starts in the third week of January but planning for this year's tournament has been a logistical nightmare for beleaguered organizers.

Tennis Australia initially wanted players arriving in Melbourne by mid-December.

But restrictions on international arrivals to the state of Victoria pushed back the tournament start date to Feb 8, with a series of WTA and ATP events being played at Melbourne the week before to ensure players are up to speed.

Melbourne was the epicenter of Australia's largest second wave outbreak of coronavirus, which prompted strict lockdown measures for four months.

This grim backdrop fueled tense negotiations between government officials, organizers and players to iron out an agreeable health security protocol for the Australian Open.

The sticking point had been over allowing players to practise during the compulsory 14-day quarantine period but eventually authorities gave the green light and granted daily five-hour blocks for training and treatment.

Players, however, face stricter measures compared to last year's U.S. and French Opens held in cities stricken by the virus and will be required to spend 19 hours daily during quarantine confined to their hotel rooms.

Defending Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin admitted it was not the most ideal situation. "It is what it is. The rules are quite harsh, but it's for everyone," she said.

There is also the threat of sanctions, including hefty fines, spending additional time in quarantine or deportation, if the rules are broken.

Ukrainian world number five Elina Svitolina hired a mental coach in an effort to cope with the stress and uncertainty.

"I think during the difficult time right now, mentally it's very important to stay strong, to stay fresh," she said.

Six-time Australian Open champion Roger Federer's decision to withdraw -- breaking his record streak of 21 straight singles appearances in Melbourne -- affects the pulling power of the tournament, which was left reeling after suggestions he skipped because of the quarantine rules.

The 39-year-old had two rounds of knee surgery last year and has not played since his semifinal defeat to Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open 12 months ago.

"The problem is that Mirka (Federer's wife) and their children couldn't leave the room," Tennis Australia's head of player liaisons Andre Sa told Brazilian media.

"They would have to stay 14 days in the room. The exception is only for players."

Just days ahead of players arriving organizers were forced into a scramble to find more accommodation after a luxury Melbourne hotel due to host them pulled out.

In a late twist, it was revealed Saturday that a contingent of up to 50 -– including top stars Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka -– would quarantine instead in Adelaide with an exhibition tournament held there prior to the Australian Open.

It led to world number 72 Jeremy Chardy accusing organizers of preferential treatment.

Australian Open chief Craig Tiley admitted there would be "some benefits" for players amid the smaller cohort in Adelaide but said "the conditions of training will be the same".

Tiley said the toll on organizers had been immense with a 1,270-strong contingent on 80 charter flights, bankrolled by Tennis Australia, journeying to Melbourne and Adelaide this week.

"It's just crazy, we've never seen anything like it," he told the Tennis Channel. "Logistically, to pull something like this off will be a small miracle but we are giving it a good go."

Even though Melbourne recently experienced a small new outbreak of the virus, Tiley expected crowd capacity at the Grand Slam to be around 50-75 percent, exceeding the biggest audience for a tennis tournament since the pandemic started.

"We are doing the best we can to deliver an Australian Open to as close as it was in 2020," he said. "Hopefully there will be normalcy to it."

© 2021 AFP

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.


6 Comments
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I really wish they weren't doing this. The risks seem far too high, with players, coaches and officials coming in from some of the worst-affected Covid-19 countries in the world. Given that the Grand Prix in Melbourne scheduled for March 18 has now been postponed to November, it's hard to see any justification for going ahead with the tennis.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

... meanwhile, Australians overseas trying to get home are stranded and bumped off flights. Great priorities Morrison.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

” the toll on organisers is heavy ?? “, what about the environment? 80 charters for 1270 people means 16 on average to a plane.

Very consistent too. No F1 but tennis goes ahead? Of course different organisations but still ?

Quarantaining in different cities ? Ridiculous increase of risk.

The athletes should also be a bit less self-centred for once and not play

1 ( +4 / -3 )

BigYenToday  07:47 am JST

I really wish they weren't doing this. The risks seem far too high, with players, coaches and officials coming in from some of the worst-affected Covid-19 countries in the world. Given that the Grand Prix in Melbourne scheduled for March 18 has now been postponed to November, it's hard to see any justification for going ahead with the tennis.

sports in America are continuing on in the same way - pro and college. Star players get sick, they can't play. Teams are not at their very best. Games result in ways that shouldn't. All in the name of the Almighty Dollar.

Disgusting, it benefits no one in the long run.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

starpunk:

Same in the UK. My soccer team just lost an FA Cup tie to a much lower-ranked team because they were forced to play a youth team against them, reason being no senior players available due to positive coronavirus tests. They weren't the only ones forced to do that, either. Cancel the competition on health grounds? Not likely. All in the name of the mighty Quid.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

BigYenJan. 13  03:03 pm JST

starpunk:

Same in the UK. My soccer team just lost an FA Cup tie to a much lower-ranked team because they were forced to play a youth team against them, reason being no senior players available due to positive coronavirus tests. They weren't the only ones forced to do that, either. Cancel the competition on health grounds? Not likely. All in the name of the mighty Quid.

It makes everything lop-sided. We have need to use our heads - CoVid is nothing to fool with. When everyone gets vaccinated (or enough of us do) then we can resume sports and entertainment on a gradually building basis again. Spain is proposing that everyone who attends an event shows a certification of vaccination before coming in. That would be a slow but steady way to start things up again.

As it is now, even though my college football team lost due to our best players being sick, then there victory parties held for the opposing college (who never beat my team before) and that means the partygoers were all together in violation of 'distancing' rules and a lockdown that is hardly enforced iat all n any city in the USA.

So the Million Dollar Question IS: who wins here? The Answer: NOBODY.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

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