WASHINGTON, January 17, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)
As Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley appeared on Australian TV Sunday explaining how he and the AO organizing committee are trying to make “a bad situation better,” there are now 72 players confined to their Melbourne hotel rooms for two weeks with no practice. The lockdown number increased from 47 after a positive COVID-19 result of a non-playing passenger was confirmed following the arrival of a Doha flight Saturday that carried players who competed in the recent Australian Open men’s qualifying draw tournament in the Qatar capital.
Some of the six dozen (nearly 20 percent of the entire Australian Open field) are complaining they didn’t know the rule regarding the definition of close contacts that has led to this situation – not being allowed outside daily for five hours during the 14-day quarantine – and many are questioning the fairness of the Australian Open.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 17, 2021
Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur tested negative upon arrival but is now confined to her hotel room without practice after a passenger on her flight from Abu Dhabi tested positive. She suggested via social media there wasn’t transparency about the rule of players having to lockdown without leaving their hotel room to train and practice if identified as a close contact. Sunday, she wrote on Twitter: “They never told us about [the] rules. Everything changed overnight. Don’t get me wrong; we are grateful for everything they are doing. We definitely never asked for free flight and food. It’s not about quarantine. It’s about transparency.”
Jabeur wrote she wasn’t in close contact with the person who tested positive on her flight. That was Sylvain Bruneau, coach of 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andrescu, who confirmed he tested COVID-19 positive on social media Saturday.
“I tested negative and will test again,” Jabeur wrote. “I don’t want to create any problems. I’m just staying safe, respecting rules. … I respect all the efforts that has been done. Hopefully everyone is safe, that’s the most important thing.”
With three weeks to go from the start of the year’s first Grand Slam event, it’s not what the Australian Open organizers envisioned when they were making preparations for the tournament dubbed the “Happy Slam.”
“We knew always there was going to be significant risk. With this pandemic you can never tell,” said Tiley, who is also chief executive of Tennis Australia in additional to his AO tournament director duties, appearing on Australian Channel Nine’s Today Show. Tennis Australia is following strict rules and guidelines passed down by the Australian government to protect the health and safety of its citizens. It is what has allowed 1,200 people (players and their teams and other tournament support personnel) to travel to the year’s first Grand Slam tournament, whose start date was pushed back by three weeks and whose qualifying tournaments were staged outside of the country in Doha and Dubai, U.A.E.
— 9News Melbourne (@9NewsMelb) January 16, 2021
“It’s a tough situation. We have to do whatever we can to make it as fair as possible for those players who are in lockdown now,” Tiley said. … Obviously, our first objective is to keep everyone as healthy as possible and to not cause further spread of the virus within the bubble, which would cause more people to be in lockdown. The Australian Open starts on February 8. We are reviewing the schedule leading in to see what can be done to help these players [in lockdown].
“Obviously, this is something we didn’t want to have happen. We were hoping every flight would be okay and that’s why we took those mitigating measures. We’re in this situation; we have to deal with it. The Australian Open is going ahead. We’ll continue to do the best we can possibly do to ensure those players have what is not a great situation is that is somewhat acceptable. …
“These decisions are tough and I totally understand the emotion that the players are going through right now as well as their objections to the situation. Our objective as well as that of the chief health officer is to ensure everyone’s safety. We do not want to be the cause of any negative situations with the virus. That’s why we have these tough conditions.”
Tiley emphatically stated there are no plans to push back the start of the Australian Open from its scheduled Feb. 8-21 timeframe. “Our intention is to continue with those dates,” he said.
“We did make it very clear in the beginning…Now we have to manage an environment over the next 14 days for those who won’t be able to practice.”
— Tennis Channel (@TennisChannel) January 17, 2021
Philipp Oswald: Inside the quarantine lockdown
On Saturday, Australian tennis journalist Nikolaus Fink reached out to Austrian doubles player Philipp Oswald, one of the unlucky 72 (then 47) doing a strict quarantine – confined to his room without being able to go outside for five hours of practice – for being on the Los Angeles to Melbourne flight in which two passengers tested COVID positive. While not a well-known player, Oswald shared some strong and interesting thoughts that are universal among those who will have to wait until their 14-day quarantine is up before they can properly train and practice. Fink’s insightful interview was published in both German and English by Tennisnet.com.
English version: https://t.co/2SKqb6BY0E
— Nikolaus Fink (@NikolausFink) January 16, 2021
Elias Ymer: Onboard QR7485 from Doha
Sweden’s Elias Ymer was on the plane from Doha to Melbourne, after which one of the passengers onboard tested positive for COVID-19. All players onboard, including Ymer, are now forced to quarantine inside their hotel rooms for 14 days without any access to training.
Elias Ymer befann sig på planet från Doha till Melbourne varpå en av passagerarna testades positivt för covid-19.
Samtliga spelare på planet inklusive Elias tvingas nu till två veckors karantän i Melbourne utan någon tillgång till träning. pic.twitter.com/WAd4PyzqsL
— Tennisportalen (@tennisportalen) January 17, 2021
Vasek Pospisil breaks bad news to his fans
Unfortunately I was one of the players on a plane that had a positive COVID-19 case and will have to isolate in my hotel room for 2 weeks. Not the best prep right before of Slam but will try make the most of it. #AussieOpen
— Vasek Pospisil (@VasekPospisil) January 17, 2021
Quarantine challenge, anyone?
On Sunday, Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open champion Aryna Sabalenka posted on Instagram a challenge to all of her fellow players lodging at the Grand Hyatt Melbourne. At least one, immediate took up Sabalenka’s challenge, Anastasia Potapova, who posted her video on her social media platforms.
View this post on Instagram
— Anastasia Potapova/Анастасия Потапова (@nastiaapotapova) January 17, 2021
Meanwhile, Ons Jabeur and Yulia Putintseva found creative ways to get in some “hitting” practice within the confines of their hotel rooms. So did Pablo Cuevas. Players are using walls, mattresses, bed pillows – anything with a flat surface – to hit balls against.
— Ons Jabeur (@Ons_Jabeur) January 17, 2021
Grand slam preparation pic.twitter.com/ALvc4EugN6
— Yulia Putintseva (@PutintsevaYulia) January 17, 2021
Pablo Cuevas can put that one handed backhand where he wants, indeed. https://t.co/FJIRd5D2ss
— José Morgado (@josemorgado) January 16, 2021
Stan Wawrinka: #happytobehere
After three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka posted a quarantine photo of himself Sunday, it drew the ire of Australian MP Tim Smith, who wrote: “For every Victorian currently in Sydney that is banned from returning home by Daniel Andrews, this obscene double standard, where this flog of a tennis player is allowed in, and our own people aren’t, must make so many Victorian families incandescent…”
Immediately, many Australian tennis fans came to Wawrinka’s defense. One, Melbourne freelance writer Luke Dennehy, wrote: “Whatever you think of the [Australian] Open going ahead or not, or quarantine issues, borders etc – Stan Wawrinka certainly is not a ‘flog of a tennis player.’ His post was actually in support of the quarantine system and the fact he is grateful to be here. He was being thankful.”
— Stanislas Wawrinka (@stanwawrinka) January 16, 2021
What they’re writing
The fallout from the strict quarantine of players who were on flights in which passengers tested COVID-19 positive after arrival, has been the subject of articles published by both The New York Times and The Guardian.
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) January 17, 2021
— Guardian sport (@guardian_sport) January 17, 2021
What they’re sharing on social media
Stefanos Tsitsipas / One last hit before OZ
— Mouratoglou Tennis Center Jumeirah (@MTCDubai) January 17, 2021