Tennis players, coaches and officials arrive at a hotel in Melbourne on January 15, 2021, before quarantining for two weeks ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament – Getty Images
Another plane-load of incoming players will have to serve out a strict quarantine in Melbourne, because of a positive Covid test in their midst. This takes the total number of players who cannot leave their hotel for the next 14 days to 72.
This flight had come in from Doha, the venue for the men’s qualifying tournament. There were 25 players aboard, including most of the 16 male qualifiers, plus up to six reserve players who could yet get their chance as “lucky losers” if someone pulls out.
The two British men in qualifying – Liam Broady and Jay Clarke – both lost in the first round, so they were not travelling on to Australia. Previously, the 47 affected players from the first two Covid-carrying planes had included just one Briton in Heather Watson.
To recap, 17 charter flights have carried around 370 players to Melbourne and Adelaide over the last few days, and three of those have now been affected by positive tests. This is shattering news for the players aboard, who had previously expected to spend the next two weeks practising on the Melbourne Park courts and also training in the gym. Now they will have to do without their promised daily five hours of release from the hotel.
Just to add to the sense of frustration and injustice, a handful of elite players have begun a far more relaxed regime in Adelaide, where they have been filmed travelling in shuttle buses without facemasks. These superstars are also entitled to take larger entourages with them. Some have claimed that Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem have ten support staff and family members apiece, whereas those in Melbourne were allowed to bring a maximum of two others into the country.
Spain’s Rafael Nadal, center, arrives at Adelaide Airport ahead of the Australian Open tennis championship, Adelaide, Australia, Thursday – AP
Djokovic, who sees himself as the primary representative of the locker-room, has written to Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley about the quarantined players. Djokovic asked Tiley to “move as many players as possible to private houses with courts to train”. He also suggested that they should be provided with fitness training and allowed to see their coaches and physical trainers.
But Stan Wawrinka, who won this title in 2014, replied to Djokovic’s statement on social media with the disdainful words “From Adelaide? Ahhahah.”
Also on social media, several players posted videos of themselves finding ways to train in their rooms. Yulia Putintseva bounced groundstrokes off her wall, while Belinda Bencic did the same with her window and Ons Jabeur hit forehands into her pillows.
The most inventive clips were posted by Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas, who began by donning his swimming trunks and simulating surfing on his bed as it rolled towards the camera. He then turned his mattress on its end, leaned it against the wall, and bashed backhands into it with full power.
There were others who broke the protocols without thinking. Two male players were rebuked by Correctional Commissioner Emma Cassar in an interview with Channel Nine news, although she stopped short of naming them.
Cassar spoke of one player “who opened the door to try and have a conversation with his training mate down the hallway.” She also mentioned “another gentleman [who] shouted some UberEats to some other people on the floor and was praising himself for his great efforts – and opened his door to do so. It is really low-level but really dangerous acts which we just can’t tolerate.”
According to Channel Nine, both players have now been given formal warnings by the Victorian police. Fines for a second offence could reach A$20,000. But one other player who admitted opening her hotel door – Putintseva – deserved some sympathy in the circumstances. She had previously taken a video of a mouse running around her room, and said she was only trying to let it out.
In another Channel Nine interview, Tiley rejected suggestions that he might be forced to delay the Australian Open beyond its planned start date of Feb 8. He did admit that the unavailability of training facilities for some players “makes it an uneven playing field so what we have to do is mitigate it as much as possible in the circumstances. What we’re trying to do is to make it as fair as possible for those players.”