Roberto Bautista Agut has slammed the Victoria state government's quarantine requirements for tennis players ahead of next month's Australian Open and said being locked down in a hotel is like being in prison.
A number of top players, including world number one Novak Djokovic, have questioned the need for mandatory hotel quarantine but Victorian premier Daniel Andrews said it was essential to stop the spread of Covid-19.
"It's like (being) in a jail," world number 13 Bautista Agut told Israeli television channel Sport 5.
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It's the same (as being in prison), but with Wifi. These people have no idea about tennis and about practice courts and it's a complete disaster. The control of everything isn't Tennis Australia, it's with the government (and health officials).
Bautista Agut, who reached the Australian Open quarter-finals in 2019, said the conditions were taking a mental and physical toll on the players.
"It's tough and I think we have to work a lot mentally and be patient," he added.
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Bautista Agut, who reached the Australian Open quarter-finals in 2019, later apologised for the comments in a post on Instagram, saying they had been made in a private conversation that was released to the media without his knowledge or consent.
"Both my coach and I are following protocols designed by the Australian Government and Tennis Australia to avoid any risk and guarantee to compete again in a safe way," Bautista Agut added.
TILEY: MAJORITY BACK QUARANTINE
Australian Open boss Craig Tiley said on Tuesday most players supported being locked down in hard quarantine as a government official reported three new cases of Covid-19 might be linked to participants of the Grand Slam.
Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said in a statement that the latest three positive tests of two players and a non-participant were of a woman in her 20s and two men in their 30s who were all in quarantine.
Tennis Australia dispute her claims. Tiley said the Department of Health and Human Services reported cases when they were acute or incidences of viral shedding.
Tiley said he had a call with 500 players to address concerns and the "vast majority" had been supportive of Australia's strict protocols.
"The vast majority, most of them have been fantastic and been supportive," Tiley told the Nine Network.
"(They) know that this is the contribution that they have to make in order to get the privilege of when they do come out to compete for A$80 million (£45m) in prize money.
"So we will turn the corner on those few that don't have the right approach to this. But the rest have been really good."
Tiley, however, conceded that the 72 players in hard quarantine were at a disadvantage to rivals who arrived on other flights and can train up to five hours a day.
"Yes, it's not an even playing field as far as preparation goes but we're going to play our part to try to even it up as much as possible," he said.
AZARENKA: ADAPT AND KEEP MOVING!
Organisers found support from former world number one Victoria Azarenka, who urged her fellow players to "accept and adapt" to the health regulations in Melbourne and show empathy towards the local community.
In an open letter, two-times Australian Open champion Azarenka said players and coaches must respect the health protocols put in place by the state government.
"To be in a 14-day quarantine is very tough to accept in terms of all the work that everyone has been putting in during their off-season - to be prepared for playing our first Grand Slam of the year," the Belarussian said in a post on Twitter.
"I understand all the frustration and feeling of unfairness that has been coming and it is overwhelming.
"Sometimes things happen and we need to accept, adapt and keep moving!"
With Australia's hardline border controls keeping daily numbers of new coronavirus cases at zero or low single digits, Azarenka said the players must do everything to support the local community.
"I would like to ask all of us to respect people who work tirelessly to try and make our lives easier," she added.
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Former French Open champion Albert Costa said it was not easy for the players to be stuck in their rooms ahead of a major but they have no option but to stay strong and get through it.
"I think that at least the Australian Open are making the effort to give the opportunity to the players to compete," Spaniard Costa, who is the tournament director for the Davis Cup Finals, said.
Czech Barbora Strycova, a semi-finalist at Wimbledon in 2019, backed the strict health protocols and said she was getting on with it.
"I'm exercising twice a day, reading some books, being on social (media) and watching TV," she told SEN Breakfast.
"I can't really complain. I really have to go through it and try to be as positive as I can be."
Additional reporting from Reuters.
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