Mayhem in Melbourne: Have Things Gotten Out Of Control?

Misaki Doi (photo: @MisakiDoiTennis/Twitter)

WASHINGTON, January 18, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

While no players have tested positive for the coronavirus since arriving in Melbourne, about 20 percent of the entire Australian Open field are under strict lockdown for 14 days. That’s because the 72 players in quarantine – who were deemed to be in close contact to those who did test positive on their respective charter flights (originating from Los Angeles, Abu Dhabi and Dubai) – cannot leave their hotel rooms to train and practice outside until they are medically cleared. Those are the Victorian government and tournament rules, no exceptions. Getting ready for a Grand Slam under these circumstances is less than ideal.

The affected include many of the sport’s big names: Victoria Azarenka, Kei Nishikori, Aryna Sabalenka and Bianca Andreescu, to name but a few. Each arrived on a flight which had at least one passenger test positive for COVID-19.

Over the weekend, some players vented their anger while others took it in stride. Local health authorities have stated that all players were warned of the risks in advance. Any players who might think about bending the rules have been warned and will be subject to heavy fines or being transferred to a more secure quarantine hotel with place stationed at their doors.

During a Sunday news conference, Victoria state’s COVID-19 quarantine commissioner Emma Cassar said there had been cases of players “testing” the quarantine procedures – triggering a warning and visit with the state’s police – but reported no attempts to escape quarantine.

“There’ll be zero tolerance for that behavior,” Caesar said. “This is designed to make people safe. We make no apologies for that.”

Among those in quarantine, Belinda Bencic complained in a social media post that the quarantine rules appeared to have changed between what she saw before traveling to Australia and what was being imposed after landing in Melbourne.

“There’s no other way you can consider this,” Cassar said. “If you’re on a plane 16-24 hours, with air that circulates throughout the plane, you are a close contact. This was made very clear and nothing has changed.”

Being unable to leave their hotel rooms means affected players have had to be creative in being able to workout. While exercise equipment has been left in the rooms of all players, some have taken to using walls, mattresses, bed pillows – anything with a flat surface – to hit balls against.

Now, Bencic is trying to make the best of it. She posted a video on Twitter: “Wrong surface but that doesn’t matter for us,” she tweeted.

Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka are among a select group of players who are in Adelaide, South Australia, where they will take place in an exhibition event on January 29. Each of those players flew directly to Adelaide to begin their hotel quarantine period.

On Sunday, Djokovic called for improvements to be made in the quarantine conditions for the 72 players under strict lockdown. According to Spanish media, the World No. 1 wrote a letter to Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley on Sunday requesting – or, as some have suggested, demanded – improved conditions:

• Fitness and training material in all rooms

• Decent food, according to the level of the tournament and from an elite athlete

• Reduce the days of isolation for the isolated players, carrying out more tests that confirm that all are negative

• Permission to visit your coach or physical grainier, as long as both have passed the PCR

• If the previous proposal has the green light, that both the player and his coach are on the same floor of the hotel

• Move as many players as possible to private houses with a court to train.

Cassar was quick to dismiss Djokovic’s demands, according to Australian media reports.

At first glance, the current situation in Adelaide and Melbourne does not suggest equal treatment and wreaks unfairness. Let’s see how it plays out but it prompted Sports Illustrated tennis writer and Sports Channel insider Jon Wertheim to write on Twitter: “This was the unforced error. The Adelaide dimension was unnecessary and has already led the charges of unfairness. I’m told that, over the weekend, the fortunate players in Adelaide have been ‘encouraged’ to stop with social media posts, which have enflamed tensions.”

Taro Daniel: In full isolation

Iga Swiatek: In-room workout

Ons Jabeur: Time to get creative

Pablo Cuevas: Enjoying quarantine facial

Elina Svitolina: ‘Welcome to my quarantine world’

What they’re saying

The Way Back Machine / Ivan Lendl, 1984

Thiem to skip South America clay court swing

What they’re posting on social media

Alex de Minaur / Eager to get on practice court

Misaki Doi / I was ready to go …

Aryna Sabalenka / Chilling after


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A post shared by (@sabalenka_aryna)

Angelique Kerber / A room with a view


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A post shared by Angelique Kerber (@angie.kerber)