The Australian summer of tennis is underway. Kind of.
Players from around the world have begun to arrive Down Under in preparation for the year’s first Grand Slam, which is due to commence on Feb. 8 [AEDT].
But things aren’t exactly running smoothly, with the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 increasing by the day.
Read on as we bring you the latest news, video and social media updates from the build-up to the Australian Open.
TUESDAY JAN. 19
TA, Victorian Health service at odds over positive cases
Two players and one non-playing member of Australian Open personnel are among the positive COVID-19 cases announced by Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday afternoon [AEDT].
The cases are one female in their 20s and two males in their 30s, while two previously reported cases have been reclassified as virus “shedding” and deemed to be from previous infections.
But there seems to be some confusion between what the DHHS deems as a positive COVID case and those which Tennis Australia view as viral shedding, and whether or not any are actually players.
TA boss Craig Tiley also said that none of the the six positive cases linked to the tournament were players.
“Of those six [cases in the Australian Open contingent], plus one – which was the flight attendant – none of them are players. (It’s) player entourages,” he said.
“There have been some players on the viral shedding list. Again, I’ll have to leave it to Quarantine Victoria to give those numbers. They’re not big numbers. It’s a few.
“As far as [players] testing positive and going to the medi-hotel – no, none.”
Azarenka turns down the temperature, calls for empathy
Meanwhile two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka has posted her own message on Twitter calling on her fellow players to show “understanding and empathy for the local community” following a number of player complaints on social media.
The Melbourne Park winner from 2012 and 2013 is currently in the mandatory 14 day quarantine after arriving in Australia on Saturday.
— victoria azarenka (@vika7) January 19, 2021
World number 28 Yulia Putintseva however is continuing to not enjoy her time in Australia’s hotels. The Kazakh player posted a video of a mouse in her hotel room over the weekend, and on Tuesday made her protest against the quarantine conditions calling for access to fresh air from her hotel room.
— Yulia Putintseva (@PutintsevaYulia) January 19, 2021
Bautista Agut likens quarantine to jail
Spanish tennis player Roberto Bautista Agut has taken aim at the quarantine requirements in Melbourne, likening them to being in prison.
“It’s like (being) in a jail,” the world No. 13 told Sport 5.
“It’s the same (as being in prison), but with wifi. These people have no idea about tennis and about practice courts and it’s a complete disaster.
“The control of everything isn’t Tennis Australia, it’s with the [Victorian] Government (and health officials).
“I was feeling very, very tight and I cannot imagine staying like this for two weeks. It’s tough and I think we have to work a lot mentally and be patient.”
— Sport5 (@sport5il) January 18, 2021
It’s Nick vs. Novak … again
The controversial build-up to the Open has continued, with Australian No. 47 Nick Kyrgios taking aim at world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, as well as the girlfriend of countryman Bernard Tomic.
A Spanish tennis website reported Djokovic wrote to Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley with a list of “demands,” asking for reduced isolation periods and having players moved to “private houses with tennis courts.”
That news prompted Kyrgios to take to social media, labelling Djokovic a ‘tool’.
Kyrgios also criticised Tomic’s girlfriend Vanessa Sierra after she complained the food served at their quarantine hotel room was cold and grumbling about having to wash her own hair.
Djokovic is a tool. I don’t mind Bernie but his Mrs obviously has no perspective, ridiculous scenes 🤦🏽♂️ https://t.co/MMgeriH2GJ
— Nicholas Kyrgios (@NickKyrgios) January 18, 2021
Australian Open boss expected COVID cases
Australian Open boss Craig Tiley says organisers always expected some positive COVID-19 cases among players and support staff arriving in Melbourne.
Some 72 players and staffers are in a 14-day lockdown in Melbourne amid six positive coronavirus cases among the arrivals.
About 1200 coronavirus tests have been carried out in the past five days from the players and staffers arriving on 17 charter flights to the Victorian capital.
Tiley described the six positive tests as a low number given the amount of tests.
“There was going to be an expectation to have several positive cases,” Tiley told the Nine Network on Tuesday.
“But now we’re in a position where they’re in lockdown, designed to protect the community.”
Tiley said the lockdown for some players meant preparations for the Grand Slam starting on February 8 was “not an even playing field”.
Players in lockdown are prevented from training while another group of competitors, including world No. 1 Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, are in Adelaide where restrictions don’t prevent them practising.
“We’re going to play our part to try to even it up as much as possible,” Tiley said.
MONDAY JAN. 18
Hardline quarantine restrictions here to stay
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has reiterated his government’s hardline quarantine regulations for incoming Australian Open tennis players following a weekend of social media criticism.
The first wave of charter flights to arrive in Melbourne have seen nine positive COVID-19 cases identified – including one player – forcing all passengers into a mandatory 14-day hard quarantine.
“I know that there’s been a bit of chatter from a number of players about the rules. Well, the rules apply to them as they apply to everybody else, and they were all briefed on that before they came, and that was the condition on which they came,” Mr Andrews said at a press conference on Monday.
“There’s no special treatment here. Because the virus doesn’t treat you specially. So neither do we.
“There’s still plenty of time for the two weeks, plenty of time for two weeks of quarantine and a buffer that’s built-in before February 8 before the tournament starts.”
Melbourne emerged from an enforced 112-day lockdown in late October following a spike in community COVID-19 cases that began in returned traveler hotel quarantine. The state is currently on a run of 12 days without a case in community transition. Current arrangements in place with Tennis Australia allow for incoming players to complete their quarantine and train outside for five hours a day, providing they return a negative test.
“We have Tennis Australia’s full support in the rules and they were communicated to everybody involved in the event,” Mr Andrews said.
“It doesn’t mean that everyone likes them, but that’s not the world we’re in. This is a wildly infectious pandemic. There are rules that need to be followed. They will not be changed. And that’s the basis on which people came here.”
Responding to reports that eight-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic had proposed a list of ideas to change the quarantine conditions for the 72 players currently in hard quarantine, Andrews flatly rejected the notion.
“People are free to provide lists of demands. But the answer is no. And that was very clearly put. That was very clearly laid out beforehand,” he said.
“So the notion that there’s been any change, the notion that people weren’t briefed – I think that that argument really has no integrity whatsoever, and don’t just take my word for it. You’ve got other players who, I think on social media and in other forums, have made it clear that they were clear on the rules. And I probably can’t be any plainer than that.”
“People were told what the rules were. The rules will not be changing because the public health advice is where those rules came from.”
SUNDAY JAN. 17
You got a mattress? You got a court!
Who says you can’t practice in your hotel room? Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva, Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas and Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic have each come up with novel ways to get the work in while confined to their hotel rooms.
Wrong surface but that doesn’t matter for us💪🏽 pic.twitter.com/R8FsdyGafy
— Belinda Bencic (@BelindaBencic) January 17, 2021
Grand slam preparation 😅 pic.twitter.com/ALvc4EugN6
— Yulia Putintseva (@PutintsevaYulia) January 17, 2021
See, you just have to get creative, folks!
The show must go on
Australian Open director Craig Tiley says the tournament will proceed as planned, despite the chaos created by the five positive COVID-19 tests that have arisen from the chartered flights bringing players, coaches and other personnel to Australia.
“We are reviewing the schedule leading in to see what we can do to assist these players,” Tiley told the Nine Network on Sunday.
“The Australian Open is going ahead and we will continue to do the best we possibly can do to ensure those players have the best opportunity.”