Preparations for the under-fire Australian Open were thrown into disarray after 47 players were sent into a two-week quarantine in their hotel room.
Three positive Covid-19 test results on two flights to Melbourne mean that instead of being allowed out of their rooms to practise daily, the affected players will be confined to their rooms in a ‘health hotel’.
World No 53 Alize Cornet has called the situation “insane” while world No 71 Sorana Cirstea said players couldn't compete after two weeks in their room. So what does this latest development mean for all the players who will not be able to train and their chances of success in Melbourne?
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What exactly has happened?
Two chartered flights for players and officials arriving from Los Angeles and Abu Dhabi were both found to be carrying people with a positive Covid-19 test.
The flight from LA had two positive results and the flight from Abu Dhabi had one.
Tennis Australia confirmed that the positive result from the Abu Dhabi flight was not a player – and had tested negative before joining the flight – while the positive results on the LA flight were from a crew member and an Australian Open participant who is not a player.
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But everyone on the two planes has been deemed close contacts and will now be required to isolate for two weeks in their hotel rooms.
Players can have exercise equipment in their rooms but will not be allowed to leave to practise on courts. The initial plan was for players to have five hours of daily practice.
The quarantine period will end two days before warm-up events start for the Australian Open, which gets underway on February 8.
Who has been impacted?
Former Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber has confirmed she is having to quarantine for two weeks in her hotel room, so too has Heather Watson.
Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, former US Open champions Sloane Stephens and Bianca Andreescu, and Kei Nishikori are also reportedly among those affected.
Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Simona Halep, Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams have all travelled to Adelaide instead of Melbourne as they are playing in an exhibition event and they have not been impacted.
A statement from the Australian Open said: “SA [South Australia] Health has confirmed that there is no one who has an active Covid-19 infection in the entire tennis cohort based in Adelaide. Testing will continue on a daily basis.”
What has the reaction been so far?
Several players have used social media to express their frustration at the situation.
Alize Cornet said she did not expect the entire plane to have to isolate if there was a positive result.
“We've been told that the plane would be separated by section of 10 people and that if one person of your section was positive, then you had to isolate. Not that the whole plane had to,” she wrote on Twitter.
She also said the “risk of injury after a two-week break is huge.”
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World No 71 Sorana Cirstea also made it clear that the issue was the quick turnaround after quarantine, rather than the quarantine itself.
“People complaining we are entitled. 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 can’t do is COMPETE after we have stayed 14 days on a couch. This is the issue, not the quarantine rule.”
Asked how long she would need to get back to a competitive level after a two-week quarantine, she said: "I would need at least three weeks after in order to be in decent form again and compete at a high level!"
This was a point raised last year when quarantine plans were not finalised and it wasn’t clear how much players would be able to practise before going into competitive action.
Bruno Soares, a member of the ATP player council, said he thought it sounded “dangerous”.
“If we have to go quarantine for 14 days inside a room and then go play a Grand Slam, I will do it because it's my job and I have to find a way, but I think it's quite dangerous for the players with no preparation I think to go there and compete right away. I think it's physically very dangerous.”
British No 1 Johanna Konta also voiced her concerns.
From my perspective, my body wouldn't be able to handle two weeks of de-conditioning, and then pushing me into the deep end. I think it would make it very difficult for players to be able to compete at the highest level without risking their bodies in the process.
Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley acknowledged in November that the Australian Open might not have gone ahead if there had not been plans to allow players to practise.
“These are highly-charged professional athletes that need to prepare for one of the Grand Slams. The only way that the event would be able to go ahead (was) if there was a small period during the day under highly secure operational restrictions (where) they would be able to get out on the court in a physically distant way and practise for a few hours.”
So what will happen now?
It was reported that a Zoom call was taking place among all players on Saturday morning.
Among the topic of discussion might be whether every player should go without practice for two weeks in the interest of fairness. Or perhaps a potential postponement of the Australian Open to give players more time to get back to fitness after the quarantine period ends.
World No 99 Marta Kostyuk thinks that if the situation stays the same, then those players currently in quarantine should get preferential treatment afterwards.
But it seems unlikely that Tennis Australia will change the quarantine rules given the criticism they have already faced for allowing such a large group of players and staff into the country while some people are not able to return to the state of Victoria from other parts of Australia.
Cornet’s messages on Twitter drew a few angry responses.
“This is not insane,” said one. “We worked hard to have ZERO community transmission cases in Victoria. We do not want to take the risk.”
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