Australian Open 2021: Quarantining tennis players voice ‘unequal practice’ frustrations

Some are not only frustrated. Covid-19 Quarantine Victoria Commissioner Emma Cassar said on Sunday that there had been a “small few” people — including a player — within the Australian Open quarantine hotels who were “testing our procedures.”

A fourth Covid-19 infection was recorded among the passengers on the two charter flights carrying players to Melbourne for the Australian Open in recent days, according to Cassar.

A member of a broadcast team on the flight carrying 24 players from Los Angeles had tested positive, adding to a crew member and a coach on the same plane who were tested positive earlier. The other case was a coach on a charter flight carrying 23 players from Abu Dhabi.

Later on Sunday, Australian Open organizers announced that another 25 players had been placed in quarantine hotels after a passenger on a Doha-Melbourne flight that arrived on Saturday had returned a positive Covid-19 test.

“The passenger is not a member of the playing contingent and had tested negative before the flight,” said the Australian Open in a statement. “There were 58 passengers on the flight, including 25 players.”

All 72 players affected are required to quarantine for two weeks and will not be able to leave their hotel rooms for the 14-day period and until they are medically cleared. They are not eligible to practice.

“A player who opened his door to try to have a conversation with his training mate down the hallway,” added Cassar. “The other was another gentleman who shouted some Uber Eats 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,” said Cassar. One of the two people mentioned was a player, and they have been warned, according to the Covid-19 Quarantine Victoria Commissioner.

World No. 71 Sorana Cirstea said she understood the need to quarantine, but that being unable to train and practice would affect her ability to compete effectively at the Australian Open.

“People complaining we are entitled,” tweeted Cirstea. “I have no issues to stay 14 days in the room watching netflix. Believe me this is a dream come true, holiday even.

“What we cant do is COMPETE after we have stayed 14 days on a couch. This is the issue, not the quarantine rule.”

“I would need at least 3 weeks after in order to be in decent form again and compete at a high level! said Cirstea in another tweet.

READ: Tennys Sandgren tests positive for Covid-19 then boards plane to Australian Open

‘Wrong surface’

Belinda Bencic echoed Cirstea’s observation that competitive balance at the Australian Open, which is the first grand slam of the tennis season, could be affected with quarantined players at a significant disadvantage.

“We are not complaining to be in Quarantine,” tweeted Belinda Bencic. “We are complaining because of unequal practice/playing conditions before quite important tournaments.
In another tweet the world No. 12 said: “Wrong surface but that doesn’t matter for us.” The tweet was accompanied by a video of Bencic, with racket in hand, gently hitting a tennis ball against the window of her hotel room.

However, one leading former tennis star gave short shrift to any players complaining about quarantine.

“I have opinions on these tennis players complaining about the quarantine situation here in OZ & for the @AustralianOpen & theyre NOT going to want to hear it from me.

“Its got something to do with a minimum of $100,000, free flights, food & lots more, want to talk @ me kids?” tweeted Rennae Stubbs, who has won six grand slam doubles title. Now retired, Australian Stubbs works as a TV pundit and hosts the the Racquet Magazine podcast.

Meanwhile Australian Open Tournament Director Craig Tiley confirmed on Sunday that the tournament will go ahead next month.

“We will continue to do the best we possibly can do to ensure those players have what is not a great situation, one that is somewhat acceptable,” Tiley told Australia’s Nine Network.

“We are reviewing the schedule leading in to see what we can do to assist these players.”

According to the Victoria State Government’s website on Sunday there are 30 active cases in the region, with seven internationally acquired and in quarantine in the last 24 hours, with none acquired locally in that time period.

Prior to the 72 players entering quarantine, tournament organizers had said players would also “undergo a more rigorous testing schedule than most returning travelers.”

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All must undergo a 14-day quarantine, but are allowed out for five hours daily to train in strict bio-secure bubbles ahead of a host of warm-up tournaments, all in Melbourne, in the week leading up the grand slam.

Australia has had 28,708 Covid-19 cases and 909 deaths, according to latest figures from the John Hopkins University of Medicine.

Originally scheduled to start this month, the Australian Open was rescheduled to February 8-21 because of Covid-19 concerns.

Sophie Jeong and Dan Kamal contributed to this report.