No Fans Allowed At Melbourne Park Next Five Days

Fans told to leave Rod Laver Arena Friday night (photo: Rob Prezioso/Tennis Australia)

MELBOURNE/WASHINGTON, February 12, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

On Friday afternoon, word spread quickly across the grounds of Melbourne Park, site of the Australian Open, that a new COVID-19 lockdown in Victoria state would directly impact the year’s first major.

Players reacted to the news during their post-match press conferences, and by early in the fifth set of Novak Djokovic’s third-round match against Taylor Fritz, fans were told they needed to vacate Rod Laver Arena no later than 11:30 p.m. as the lockdown would commence at 11:59 p.m. There was a noticeable buzz from the crowd after the notification was read by the chair umpire. By the time Djokovic secured match point at 12:20 a.m., the only visible people left in the arena were the players, their teams and a few scattered tournament officials and photographers and camera persons.

For five days, beginning Saturday, fans will be banned from attending the Happy Slam because of a coronavirus outbreak at a quarantine hotel.

The Victoria state Premier, Daniel Andrews, announced on Friday a five-day lockdown starting a minute before midnight local time Friday night. He imposed new restrictions that are strict – but hopefully effective – allowing residents to leave their homes only to shop for essential supplies, care and caregiving, exercise and essential work.

The tournament will be allowed to continue uninterrupted because the players are deemed “essential workers” and Melbourne Park will continue as a workplace for tennis players, albeit without crowds.

The Australian Open is the first Grand Slam tournament since the coronavirus pandemic to allow sizable crowds. Last year, Wimbledon was cancelled, the US Open took place without crowds on the grounds of the Billie Jean King USTA National Tennis Center and the French Open was moved from late May to mid-September in order to allow for a limited number of fans.

In the initial plans for this year’s Australian Open, the government made allowances for up to 30,000 people daily at Melbourne Park, roughly 50 percent capacity. Friday’s attendance for the fifth day of the Aussie fortnight was announced as 22,299.

Players react to Victoria lockdown

Following her third-round victory over Kazakhstan’s Zarina Diyas Friday afternoon, Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain was asked about the Victorian state government five-day lockdown, which began at 11:59 p.m. Friday night in Melbourne, following a recent COVID-19 outbreak.

“Well, I mean, it’s a tough one. After trying to have everybody clean, of course there’s always a risk of having new cases. We all know that the government here takes it very seriously,” Muguruza said during her post-match press conference.

“But we are happy that we can continue the tournament. I feel like that’s always something that is not in our control.

“They can say, ‘Okay, you know what, this Australian Open tournament, we kind of freeze it.’ I’m happy that the tournament is going to go on.

“I’m sad, of course, that the crowd will not be there for the next few days. Hopefully after we will have again.”

Meanwhile, Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria said following his win against Pablo Carreño Busta: “Well, I mean, clearly, it’s unexpected. I think throughout the past months and everything that has been happening, in a sense I feel like nothing can surprise me to that extent.

“Of course, safety first on all ends. Still being very fortunate to be able to play a Grand Slam tournament in the middle of a pandemic. Very, very thankful to the Australian Open, to all the parties that made that thing happen.

“I mean, I feel like also very welcome from all the Australians. The government has played a significant role. Yes, it’s not going to be the same without the spectators, but very thankful for the opportunity I get.”

Finally, Serena Williams of the United States, was asked her reaction during her press conference after beating Anastasia Potapova: “It’s not ideal. It’s been really fun to have the crowd back, especially here. It’s been really cool. But you know what, at the end of the day we have to do what’s best. Hopefully it will be all right.”

Nick Kyrgios: He felt the fan’s support

After his three-hour and 21-minute five-set loss to Dominic Thiem, Nick Kyrgios was asked the positive fan support behind him in John Cain Arena as well as what effect the lack of fans will have during the forthcoming five-day lockout. He said:

“I think Thiem actually, you know, drew some energy from everyone kind of against him almost. He’s played on the biggest stages in the world, so I don’t think he was rattled at all. One thing I noticed about him maybe two sets to love down, he was always positive, he didn’t show any negative emotion. He knew there was a long way to go in that match. Yeah, the sport is not the same without the crowd, you know.”

Krygios continued: “For me, these matches felt full because, I mean, like the stadium was awesome, energy was awesome. You look at Djokovic’s match now and there’s barely no crowd. I don’t know how other players feel about it, but that’s just the way it is. We can’t complain. We’re blessed to just be playing at the moment.”

Iga Swiatek: It’s the cat’s meow

During her press conference Friday night, a reporter asked Iga Swiatek about the cat she drew on the camera lens following her victory against Fiona Ferro. She said:

“You know, that was like the first thing that came to my mind. I was thinking what should I write, like, before the match, but immediately I was, like, okay, you’re gonna have a chance to write something if you’re gonna win, so focus on that first. Yeah, I just love cats, and that’s, yeah, I don’t know. I’m watching cats on Instagram and it’s relaxing for me. And, yeah, you know, what more can I say?

What they’re saying

Adrian Mannarino in praise of Alexander Zverev following the German’s 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 third-round victory:

“Well, obviously I didn’t feel my best because – probably because Sascha was playing too well. He was really consistent, serving well, putting a lot of pressure. When you’re on the other side of the net, you feel like you don’t have that much time to play, and you need to serve really well. Otherwise, it’s going to be complicated because he’s serving too well. Yeah, I think he was just too good, and I was not even close to playing the same level of tennis than him.”

Zverev in praise of Mannarino:

“I thought I tried to play extremely aggressive, tried to use my chances, and I’m happy with the win. The last few times I played Adrian it was always a very long match, always a very tough match, and happy to kind of get the straight-set win today.”

Felix Auger-Aliassime on beating fellow Canadian Denis Shapovalov, 7-5, 7-5, 6-3, in Friday’s third round:

“It’s never easy, not just because we know each other but because he’s a great player. You know, he’s been a great player, he’s been playing well. You know, at the start of the year, I saw his match against Jannik [Sinner]; it was a great match. You know, it’s a big challenge, so to come through in three sets like that, it means a lot. It’s good for my level, my confidence, and hopefully I can build on from this.

Shapovalov following his loss to Auger-Aliassime:

“In the end, it’s a tennis match. I lost today, but I’m happy with the way things are going in practice, with the way I’m improving. And, you know, I just hope to keep going in this direction.”

Simona Halep: The last word

Simona Halep on how she’s feeling, both with her level and getting through the first week:

“I had tough matches, but I’m really happy that after the third one I feel much better, the game also and the body. You know, first week is like Pete Sampras used to say: ‘It’s about surviving, because you cannot win the Grand Slam in the first week.’”