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Australian News

Two Australian Open tennis players test positive but may not have active coronavirus infections, Police Minister says



Ten positive COVID-19 tests have now been recorded among people who have flown to Melbourne for the Australian Open tennis tournament, including two players whose results were confirmed today.

Victoria’s Police Minister, Lisa Neville, said one of those new cases was a player who is in hard lockdown, and authorities believe their infection is not active, but shedding.

Ms Neville said another player and one of their support team have also tested positive and are unable to train until authorities can determine the status of their infections.

“In the meantime, the player, the support person and their bubble — so the other support person and player they’re with — will not be training until we have a final confirmation that they are shedding or that they are positive,” she said.

If they are positive, the player and their support person will go into the health hotel and their training partner and their support person will enter a hard quarantine as close contacts of a confirmed case, Ms Neville said.

The three new cases whose test results were received by the Victorian Government today will be reported in the official coronavirus numbers tomorrow, Ms Neville said.

Earlier, Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said the hotel quarantine system was working well.

“We’re in our sixth day and so far our numbers have been extremely low and if they are active cases they go straight to the medi-hotel,” he said.

Paramedics this morning responded to a medical emergency at the View Hotel, where many tennis players have been quarantined.

Ambulance Victoria said one person was taken to hospital in a stable condition, but did not reveal whether the person was connected to the tennis.

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Player complaints still occupying Tennis Australia’s time

Tennis Australia has devoted considerable time to dealing with a vocal minority of players who have continued to complain about conditions in hotel quarantine.

Spanish player Roberto Bautista Agut issued an apology after he likened conditions in quarantine to being in jail, in a video he said was released without his consent.

In the video, Bautista Agut was critical of the Victorian Government, saying the quarantine arrangements were “a complete disaster”.

He later issued a statement saying it was a private conversation taken out of context and released to the media without his knowledge.

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Russian player Yulia Putintseva drew criticism yesterday for an Instagram post in which she was seen holding a protest sign in her hotel room.

Putintseva later continued to complain about cleanliness standards, posting videos of mice in her hotel room.

Police Minister Lisa Neville said Ms Putintseva was moved to a different room in the hotel, and she understood the player had been feeding the mouse.

“We don’t send cleaners into those rooms … so every tennis player needs to clean their own room and change their own bed if they want to do that,” she said.

“I’d just encourage them to minimise interaction with the mice, we will keep doing pest control if we need to, but hopefully that pest control work that was done this week will have fixed the problem.”

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Mr Tiley said Tennis Australia had to remind players that their complaints may not be well received in Melbourne.

“We’re doing the best we can to ask the players to be respectful of the Victorian community, who’ve been through a really tough time over four months of a lockdown, and paid significant prices in loss of life and also in jobs,” he said.

“It’s just one of those environments that we have to every single day talk to the players and ask them to respect that position.

“I believe the majority of them are, it’s just a select few that are not there yet.”

British player Johanna Konta spoke up during a conference call with hundreds of players earlier this week, urging them to be mindful of local sentiment and keep their complaints private.

She told Channel Nine that emotions were running high during the first few days of quarantine, and players were simply anxious about how they would perform after two weeks in a hotel room.

“A big part of that frustration for these players will be how well will they be able to perform and I think that just comes along with being a professional athlete and sometimes rationale doesn’t come into it,” she said.

“The reason we are here is to put on a show for the people of Australia, the people of Melbourne, and also the world stage.”

Quarantine bill to be paid in full by Tennis Australia

Ms Neville estimated the cost of quarantining players ahead of the Australian Open would run into the tens of millions of dollars, and said the bill would not be paid by the Government.

Earlier today, Mr Tiley suggested to Melbourne radio station 3AW that the Victorian Government would help out with quarantine costs, but could not say how much they would contribute.

“Well that’s still to be determined — perhaps next week or the week after we’ll know that, whatever the quarantine costs end up being,” he said.

Mr Tiley said Tennis Australia had exhausted its $80 million dollar cash reserve and had taken out a loan to fund the costs associated with player flights and hotel quarantine, but Ms Neville said his claims about taxpayers funding part of the bill were not correct.

“Hotel quarantine for the Australian Open is fully funded by Tennis Australia. I’ve triple-confirmed that again today [after seeing that information], it is fully funded by the Australian Open,” she said.

She said while the Government supported the Australian Open “as an event”, as it does with all big events, the additional cost of the quarantine arrangements was being funded by Tennis Australia.

“The taxpayer is not contributing to the [Australian Open] hotel quarantine program,” she said.

Tennis Australia is yet to reveal whether allowances will be made in its schedule for the 72 players in hard quarantine, but Mr Tiley hinted that could be a possibility.

“I think how we can adjust is what happens in the lead-in events, how many lead-in events we have and when we start and what the schedule is for those players who need more time,” he said.



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Australian Open boss Craig Tiley says no player has an active COVID-19 infection



There are no active coronavirus cases among tennis players in hotel quarantine ahead of the Australian Open, according to tournament director Craig Tiley.

Yesterday, the Department of Health and Human Services said two people who had tested positive had been reclassified as cases of viral shedding.

Mr Tiley said 3,200 tests were conducted on people who flew into Melbourne to be involved in the Australian Open in some capacity, and six of those people were considered active cases.

“We’re in our sixth day and so far our numbers have been extremely low and if they are active cases they go straight to the medi-hotel,” he said.

Paramedics this morning responded to a medical emergency at the View Hotel, where many tennis players have been quarantined.

Ambulance Victoria said one person was taken to hospital in a stable condition, but did not reveal whether the person was connected to the tennis.

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Tennis Australia has devoted considerable time to dealing with a vocal minority of players who have continued to complain about conditions in hotel quarantine.

Spanish player Roberto Bautista Agut issued an apology after he likened conditions in quarantine to being in jail, in a video he said was released without his consent.

In the video, Bautista Agut was critical of the Victorian Government, saying the quarantine arrangements were “a complete disaster”.

He later issued a statement saying it was a private conversation taken out of context and released to the media without his knowledge.

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Russian player Yulia Putintseva drew criticism yesterday for an Instagram post in which she was seen holding a protest sign in her hotel room.

Putintseva later continued to complain about cleanliness standards, posting videos of mice in her hotel room.

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Mr Tiley said Tennis Australia had to remind players that their complaints may not be well received in Melbourne.

“We’re doing the best we can to ask the players to be respectful of the Victorian community, who’ve been through a really tough time over four months of a lockdown, and paid significant prices in loss of life and also in jobs,” he said.

“It’s just one of those environments that we have to every single day talk to the players and ask them to respect that position.

“I believe the majority of them are, it’s just a select few that are not there yet.”

British player Johanna Konta spoke up during a conference call with hundreds of players earlier this week, urging them to be mindful of local sentiment and keep their complaints private.

She told Channel Nine that emotions were running high during the first few days of quarantine, and players were simply anxious about how they would perform after two weeks in a hotel room.

“A big part of that frustration for these players will be how well will they be able to perform and I think that just comes along with being a professional athlete and sometimes rationale doesn’t come into it,” she said.

“The reason we are here is to put on a show for the people of Australia, the people of Melbourne, and also the world stage.”

Tennis Australia is yet to reveal whether allowances will be made in its schedule for the 72 players in hard quarantine, but Mr Tiley hinted that could be a possibility.

“I think how we can adjust is what happens in the lead-in events, how many lead-in events we have and when we start and what the schedule is for those players who need more time,” he said.



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Local News - Victoria

Three new COVID-19 cases linked to Australian Open as government insists it’s not footing quarantine bill


“I’m aware of these figures and I wanted to share them with you because there’s been a lot of debate about how many people we have in the Australian Open who are positive,” she said. “This morning we became aware of three more positives.”

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The three additional cases will be included in Thursday’s official figures.

Ms Neville said two cases are players, including one who is strongly suspected of shedding the virus and is already in lockdown because they arrived on a flight with another positive case.

The second player and their support person who returned positive swabs will not be allowed outside their hotel rooms while the Department of Health and Human Services reviews their test results to determine whether they are also shedding the virus.

“In the meantime though, the player and the support person … will not be training until we have final confirmation they are either shedding [the virus] or that they are positive,” Ms Neville said.

“If they are positive those two will go into the health hotel and the two bubble people will be considered close contacts and will be in lockdown for the 14 days.”

Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley told Melbourne radio station 3AW on Wednesday morning the bill for the quarantine program is expected to top $40 million and will be partially paid by the Victorian government.

That was strongly disputed by Ms Neville.

“I want to be really clear about this,” she said, “hotel quarantine for the Australian Open is fully funded by Tennis Australia, I’ve triple confirmed that again today.

“I think you know we are asking, for example, Australians returning [home] to contribute to their hotel quarantining costs … so it is appropriate that Tennis Australia similarly do that.”

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Premier Daniel Andrews has also been forced to defend the outsourcing of testing and health checks of players and staff to a private contractor involved in the St Basil’s nursing home outbreak, which led to the deaths of 45 residents.

Mr Andrews said Aspen Medical was more than capable of doing the work and it would prevent a drain of public hospital staff.

On Tuesday, Mr Tiley contradicted Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton’s report that two players were among cases of COVID-19 connected to the tournament.

In a health department update just before 5pm, Professor Sutton specified that the new cases “involve two players”.

But Mr Tiley appeared to dispute this, stating “none of them are players”. He suggested some players had cases of viral shedding, as opposed to being actively infectious.

Players including Roberto Bautista Agut and Yulia Putintseva compared life in lockdown to prison, with the latter saying: “In jail, at least you can breathe fresh air two times a day.” Bautista Agut later issued an apology, labelling Australia’s efforts to limit the spread of the virus as “admirable”.

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Australian Open coronavirus quarantine hotel’s discarded PPE found outside neighbours’ homes


Victorian residents living next door to an Australian Open quarantine hotel are worried they have been exposed to potential health risks, saying overflowing biohazard bins caused used PPE to be blown into their apartment foyer.

Melbourne resident Sarah, who lives next door to the View hotel on St Kilda road, said she was also concerned by the amount of people who were coming in and out of the building without masks, including what she said was dozens of food delivery drivers each day.

The View hotel is one of three sites where international tennis players and their entourages are quarantining before the Australian Open next month.

At least seven people linked to the tournament have been confirmed to have COVID-19, and more than 70 players are in strict quarantine as close contacts.

Sarah, who did not want to use her surname for privacy reasons, said on the weekend there were around 10 bright yellow biohazard bins that had overflowed and the wind had blown used face masks and gloves across the street.

“In our apartment block, a lot of people I’ve spoken to aren’t going out, because they’re not sure how safe it is,” Sarah said.

“Our building has a lot of elderly people as well as children, basic stuff like this should not be happening.”

Road closure signs block access to the front of The View Hotel, photographed on a sunny Melbourne day.
The View is one of three hotels housing the Australian Open players and their entourages.(ABC News: Chris Le Page)

Father-of-two Brijesh, who also lives nearby, said he believed it was a “double standard” international tennis players were allowed in Australia and said his family was being put at risk because of it.

“It’s been a big issue — we’ve seen half a dozen face masks at a time on our front doorstep, since the hotel quarantine began next door,” he said.

“I’ve been quite worried about it actually, because my five-year-old daughter is at the stage where she likes to pick things up, so it’s pretty scary.”

Face masks and other bits of rubbish on a suburban street at night.
Residents say the personal protective equipment was blown onto the street during a windy night.(Supplied)

Improper disposal of used PPE by security guards and hotel quarantine staff during the state’s second wave was highlighted as a problem during the hotel quarantine inquiry hearings.

The COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria (CQV) agency said it would review CCTV of the street to find the source of the discarded PPE and would take any appropriate action necessary.

“CQV’s biohazard bins are stored and collected from the secure basement carpark of the View Melbourne, with no public access,” a CQV spokesperson said

“This measure ensures the bins are safely collected within a secure environment to reduce any risk to public health.”

Resident says ‘lazy behaviours’ are on display

Sarah said she constantly saw many people, including workers, coming and going from the building without masks.

“It’s quite upsetting given what the city went through with hotel quarantine last year, that we seem to be witnessing some really lazy behaviours,” she said.

“Constantly during the day and night we see delivery drivers going in and out of the building — I would say about 10 to 15 every lunch and dinnertime.”

The CQV spokesperson said delivery drivers had no access to the hotel.

“They are met out the front by CQV staff who wear appropriate PPE and are trained in our strict IPC protocols. CQV staff then deliver the food outside the resident’s room door,” they said in a statement.

Sarah said only yesterday she witnessed PPE blowing around the streets and she had contacted both the hotel and Tennis Australia, but had not received a reply.

Frank Hargreaves, who lives next to the hotel, said he had witnessed a particularly bad event on a windy night a few days ago and saw a lot of masks had been blown near the door of his apartment building.

“It’s pretty dangerous, but it had been cleaned up the next day,” Mr Hargreaves said.

“The biggest concern I have is the tennis players walking along a busy St Kilda road to get to the courts for training.”



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The massive logistical exercise behind Australian Open players’ COVID hotel quarantine


It has been five days since the last chartered plane load of players and officials flew into the country and headed into quarantine before the start of the Australian Open on February 8.

Tournament director Craig Tiley said those five days have felt like a year.

“There’s been a lot going on,” he said, as he opened a briefing session with the Australian media.

The players in quarantine are counting down; they are into single digits with nine days of the mandatory 14 remaining.

The controversy and debate surrounding the event has been dealt with elsewhere but burying into the numbers of what has already happened without a single ball being served provides a unique perspective on what’s required to run an event in the COVID-19 era.

These past five days alone have been a “massive, massive logistical exercise” according to Tiley.

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Play Video. Duration: 1 minute 42 seconds

Dan Andrews says Australian Open players can make demands while in quarantine, ‘but the answer is no’.

Players from 100 countries were flown in on 17 charter flights, departing from seven different cities and arriving in the space of 48 hours to be checked into three different hotels.

Three of those flights had passengers who tested positive to COVID-19 and were taken to medi-hotels.

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There were three positive cases on a plane from Los Angeles, three positives on a flight from Abu Dhabi and one on a flight from Doha.

Others on board those flights were considered close contacts and put into hard lockdown, including 72 players who have shared their training sessions, opinions, complaints and suggestions with the world via various social media platforms.

There have been around 2,500 COVID tests conducted on the arrivals so far.

In the first round of testing those who didn’t initially test positive were cleared of having the virus, although there have been some cases showing viral shedding where the individual is not contagious but shows results of having had COVID sometime in the preceding months.

A tennis player wearing a mask is escorted by hotel quarantine staff.
Marcelo Melo is one of the players allowed out to train during their hotel quarantine.(AAP)

“Our objective all along was to ensure that we were going to have an environment that was safe for the community,” Tiley said.

“Melburnians, Victorians, Australians have paid a massive price for the situation we are in today and that’s to have no community spread.

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Tennis player Aryna Sabalenka practices against hotel window during quarantine

“And that price as you all know was a hard lockdown for many of us for a long time.

“So we paid the price and now we are in a position where we have the players and all of our international guests, 1,270 of them, doing the same thing — 14 days in quarantine, where you get tested every day.”

There are still another 5,000 to 6,000 tests to be conducted over the remaining days of quarantine.

There are two types of quarantine for players

On top of that was the logistics of co-ordinating the movements of those players who were not in hard lockdown but in a modified quarantine plan where they could leave their rooms for five hours a day to train.

“That’s for two hours of practice, 90 minutes of gym and then half an hour for nutrition,” Tiley said.

Those hours are carefully monitored and coordinated including travel arrangements with door-to-door military precision.

“Each room gets a knock on the door within five minutes of each other,” Tiley explained.



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Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka calls for calm during COVID-19 hotel quarantine


Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka has issued an impassioned plea to her fellow players to show “understanding and empathy” amid criticism of quarantine conditions in Melbourne.

There are currently 72 players who are confined to their hotel rooms for 14 days in Melbourne and unable to train outside on courts allocated to players for practice ahead of the season-opening major beginning on February 8.

Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut has likened quarantine conditions to being in prison, while men’s world number one Novak Djokovic, who is quarantining in Adelaide, has been widely criticised for making a list of suggestions to help those players who are under the strictest lockdown rules.

Azarenka, who won the women’s title at Melbourne Park in 2012 and 2013, acknowledged being in a 14-day quarantine was “very tough to accept in terms of all the work that everyone has been putting in during their off-season”.

But the former women’s world number one said all players needed to show patience and be respectful of what the Victorian community had gone through during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I would like to ask all my colleagues for cooperation, understanding and empathy for the local community that has been going through a lot of very demanding restrictions that they did not choose, but were forced to follow,” Azarenka tweeted.

“I would like to ask to be sensitive as well to the people who have lost their jobs and loved ones during this horrible time for all of us around the world.

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Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley replied to Azarenka’s tweet, thanking her for her support and saying her “words are much appreciated”.

“It means a lot to us,” Tiley tweeted.

Azarenka’s stance is at odds with men’s world number 13 Bautista Agut, who expressed his frustration with the player lockdown.

“It’s the same [as being in prison], but with WiFi,” he said in an interview with Israeli broadcaster Sport5.

“These people has [sic] no idea about tennis, about practice courts, has no idea about anything so it’s a complete disaster.”

Roberto Bautista Agut grimaces as he plays a forehand against Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Roberto Bautista Agut is unimpressed with the quarantine conditions in Melbourne.(AP: Mark Schiefelbein)

But Czech Barbora Strycova, a Wimbledon semi-finalist in 2019, supported the strict health protocols players were faced with during their quarantine period.

“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.”



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Nick Kyrgios takes aim at Australian Open tennis players complaining about hotel quarantine requirements


Nick Kyrgios joined former Davis Cup player Sam Groth in criticising Novak Djokovic after the Serbian world number one reportedly wrote to Australian Open organisers asking them to ease quarantine restrictions for players.

A Spanish tennis website reported that Djokovic wrote to Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley with a list of “demands”, asking for reduced isolation periods and having players moved to “private houses with tennis courts”.

Djokovic’s management team did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Kyrgios criticised Djokovic repeatedly in 2020 for organising the Adria Tour exhibition event in the Balkans, where multiple players including the top-ranked Serbian contracted the virus.

“Djokovic is a tool,” Kyrgios, ranked 47th in the world, said on Twitter.

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Djokovic, who opted to rent a private house instead of staying at a hotel during the 2020 US Open, is among top players who are serving their mandatory quarantine in Adelaide before travelling to Melbourne for the year’s first grand slam.

Djokovic, who set up the breakaway Professional Tennis Players’ Association last year after resigning as the head of ATP’s Players Council, was looking to gain popularity, said Australian Groth.

“Is he serious? It’s a selfish political move to gain popularity,” he wrote in his Herald Sun column.

Groth also pointed to the criticism Djokovic received for organising the Adria Tour in June.

“To suggest players should have shorter quarantine isn’t only ridiculous, it’s insulting to Australians that have had to endure it,” Groth added.

Meanwhile, Bernard Tomic’s girlfriend, Vanessa Sierra, drew flak from Kyrgios after complaining that the food served at their quarantine hotel room was cold, and grumbling about having to wash her own hair.

Bernard Tomic is seen through a hotel window playing with a tennis racquet
Australian tennis player Bernard Tomic exercises in his hotel room in Melbourne as one of the players quarantined ahead of the Australian Open.(AFP: William West)

“This is the worst part of quarantine,” Sierra said on her YouTube channel.

“I don’t wash my own hair. I’ve never washed my own hair. It’s just not something that I do. I normally have hairdressers that do it twice a week for me.

“This is the situation that we’re dealing with. I can’t wait to get out of quarantine just so I can get my hair done.”

The 25-year-old Kyrgios, who has railed at tennis players who have breached COVID-19 protocols since the start of the pandemic, was not amused.

“I don’t mind Bernie but his Mrs obviously has no perspective, ridiculous scenes,” Kyrgios said.

Players knew the risks: Sitak

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Artem Sitak says the quarantine measures were made very clear by Tennis Australia prior to flying in for the Australian Open.

New Zealand’s Artem Sitak has sympathy for players concerned about the risks of competing after two weeks stuck in their rooms, quarantining in hard isolation ahead of the Australian Open.

But the Russian-born doubles specialist says players were made aware they risked being put into quarantine before the tournament and he was going to make the best of the circumstances.

“Especially for singles players, if they have to come out and go play a singles match, it’s very difficult, it’s extremely difficult,” he said of players’ concerns.

“I hope for everyone that they’ll be fine and there will be no injuries. It could happen.

“But as I said in my [social media] post, we knew the risk we were taking and Australia being very, very strict with their rules concerning the virus … this was always a possibility.”

Sitak is one of 72 Australian Open stars confined to their rooms in hotel quarantine after being on the same flight into Australia as a positive coronavirus case.

Players have tried to make the best of the situation. Social media posts from players in hard isolation shows them using upturned mattresses and hotel windows to practice in their hotel rooms.

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Tennis player Aryna Sabalenka practices against her hotel window during quarantine.

But there is anxiety among players about how the quarantine will affect their match fitness, as well as injury concerns.

Players such as Sorona Cirstea have raised issues about how prepared she will be to compete at the standard necessary to succeed at a grand slam event.

The Romanian said in a tweet she believed she would need “at least three weeks after [isolation] in order to be in decent form again and compete at a high level.”

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Many players share her concerns. Belgian player Kirsten Flipkens said she believed it was “insane” for players to play the tournament without any proper practice.

The situation is made worse for these players in hard isolation, as many of their potential opponents have avoided hard quarantine.

Only four chartered flights bringing tournament players and staff have been effected so far, with at least a dozen more planeloads arriving in Australia without issue.

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Those players who arrived without positive tests on their planes will still be in quarantine, but — crucially — they will be permitted to go out of their rooms and train for five hours per day under restricted conditions.

Georgian tennis player Oksana Kalashnikova is among those players confined to a hotel room and unable to practise for two weeks.

Speaking to ABC News Breakfast, Kalashnikova acknowledged other players who were able to train had an advantage over those like her in hard isolation.

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Oksana Kalashnikova says she understands the frustrations of quarantined players

“Of course we are not in the winning position in quarantine and obviously the other players will have an advantage because we can’t really have the same amount of hours of practice,” she said.

Along with the competitive disadvantage her relative lack of preparation poses, she said she is concerned about the possibility that her changed routine could also make her more prone to injury once she recommences her typical training load.

“For any human being, if you are not doing the same amount of workout you can’t just go in and jump in and do the same amount of hours [of training afterwards],” she said.

“Personally, talking about myself, I am just going to raise my hours slowly just to go with how my body feels [not to] overload it in the first days.”

Kalshnikova said the players knew they’d be faced with at least mild quarantine measures, and that she was happy to follow the rules and deal with the situation in front of her now.

But she does believe more time to prepare for the open may have been helpful to the players.

Still, she is trying to make the best of the situation by doing workouts to stay physically active in her room.

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Psychological resilience may be key to success

Former player and Kooyong Classic tournament director Peter Johnston said staying physically active and healthy would be crucial to the Australian Open success of the players in hard isolation.

But he said the players who were able to show psychological resilience and embrace training in these restrictive conditions would also be the ones who ultimately had the most success on the court.

“The physical aspect has to be managed, as we’ve talked about, but it’s really the one whose been able to keep everything together in their own mind and stay positive that will have the best results,” he said.

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Former player and Kooyong tournament director Peter Johnston says the most psychologically resilient will ultimately succeed.

He said players should be staying “mentally up” by keeping communication with people on the outside, as well as doing as much exercise as they can.

But he said getting that physical training for a sport like tennis would be a challenge in the confined space of a hotel room.

“Well it’s very restrictive in a sport like tennis, as you can see from what lengths they are going to, to actually try and find some way to try and maintain their touch and their fitness,” he said.

“I think diet is also another massive issue and they need to have as much available to them as they normally would have.”

There’s also the climate related adjustment for players to consider, having left colder climate for air-conditioned hotel rooms, away from the Melbourne summer weather .

“I’d be really hoping for a window that opens because you need to experience the fresh air. The conditions in Australia are so much more extreme than players who come from say, the northern hemisphere,” he said.



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John Alexander says Australian Open a ‘compromised event’ despite ‘Herculean effort’ to get players here


In the haste to keep the Australian Open as close to its January timeslot as possible better alternatives may have been overlooked, according to John Alexander, the former Australian Open doubles champion, now the federal Member for Bennelong.

One suggestion put forward was to host back-to-back events in December 2021 and January 2022, making Australia the epicentre of world tennis for two months.

“Had that option been taken — and it still might be forced on us if we can’t get it up, starting on the 8th of February — that would’ve given much, much more time for us to come to terms with the COVID virus, much more time to make arrangements with players, [and] it would have reduced the cost for setting up the various events because you’d be setting up for two events not just one,” he told The Ticket.

“We might also have seen who was going to be the greatest of all time because you might have a [Novak] Djokovic or a [Roger] Federer with two grand slams within a period of two months.

“There were quite a few arguments why that might not be the worst idea but we are stuck with what we are doing now … there is still a possibility that things will get too difficult and it might have to be postponed, but I would advocate rather than not do it, to look at doing one in December and another one in January.”

Craig Tiley, dressed in a blue suit, speaks to reporters outdoors.
Craig Tiley and Tennis Australia have gone to great lengths to hold the Australian Open.(AAP: Tennis Australia, file)

While praising the extraordinary lengths Tennis Australia had gone to, with support from the Victorian Government, Alexander said the decision to stick with the event early in the calendar year may have been too hasty.

“When you make hasty decisions, maybe the other options weren’t tabled or fully worked through,” he said.

“But with the difficulties we are encountering now, and there are many, we seem to be coping quite well — but I think at best it’s going to be a compromised championship because so many of the players won’t have a fair opportunity to prepare.

“A big part of preparing for the Australian Open, especially for a great majority of the players coming from the northern hemisphere winter and then having to acclimatise to our weather conditions of temperatures in the mid-30s and 40s, it sometimes takes more than one week [of] intense practice and training under those conditions, it’s more like a two-week exercise and the players in lockdown aren’t having that opportunity.”

Fourteen-day lockdown ‘not that big a price to pay’

A masked Novak Djokovic at Adelaide Airport.
Novak Djokovic has come under fire for making “suggestions” on how quarantine could be made easier for players.(ABC News)

World number one Djokovic, who is quarantining in Adelaide, has been widely criticised for making a list of suggestions to help those players who are under the strictest lockdown rules.

He has come under fire from the 45th-ranked player in the world, Australia’s Nick Kyrgios, who has had the benefit of preparing for the Open without any quarantining constraints.

Alexander says many of the younger players will have their minds broadened by playing at this year’s Open and having to deal with Australia’s strict approach to combatting the COVID-19 pandemic.

“One of the great things of travel is that it’s said to broaden your mind, and you’ve got players coming from all around the world and they’re hypercritical,” Alexander said.

“But if they understood what we have gone through here in this country, and in particular Victoria, and how well we have combatted the COVID virus and all that it brings, they might then have some appreciation as to why the rules are so strict,” he said.

“And then they might understand that it’s probably not a bad deal — they’re having their airfares paid, their hotel paid, their food paid and they get a minimum $100,000 in prizemoney if they’re in the main draw.

“That’s not a bad deal and, as somebody else said from the Victorian Government, ‘They’re asked to spend 14 days in quarantine, our entire state had 111 days in lockdown.’

“But you know, you get young people, who are very, very, successful, they make a lot of money and if they can’t get the booking at the right table in the right restaurant at the right time it’s a major problem for some of them.

“They’re a tad spoilt possibly, a bit privileged, but I think it will broaden their takeaway that they’ll understand that Australia has actually done outstandingly well and the effort that Tennis Australia is going to — and the costs to try to stage this event as close to the traditional date as possible — is Herculean and it would be nice if people co-operated and realised they are one of the major beneficiaries in getting the tournament on.”



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Quarantine complainers ‘in a minority’ says Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley



The vast majority of tennis players quarantining in Melbourne are doing so without complaint, according to Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley.

Tournament organisers held a conference call last night with hundreds of the players, many of whom wanted to apologise for the comments of what Mr Tiley referred to as a “minority” of disgruntled competitors.

“The majority of the players have been absolutely fantastic and this is a playing group that’s a little bit upset with what some of the playing group have said, it holds them in a bad light in the community,” Mr Tiley said.

“This is the first time that these players have experienced anything like this and this is the price that our guests and anyone coming into Australia needs to pay.”

There are currently 72 players who are confined to their hotel rooms for 14 days and are unable to train outside on courts allocated to players for practice.

Some players had complained they were not aware they would be subjected to hard quarantine if they were on the same flight as someone who tested positive to the virus.

Health authorities have conducted more than 1,200 COVID-19 tests on those who have flown to Australia for the event.

Of the four new cases in hotel quarantine identified yesterday, three are related to arrivals for the tennis.

Premier Daniel Andrews said some of those cases may be reclassified as viral shedding.

Mr Tiley said the majority of players had accepted the situation and were getting on with their preparations.

“They’re now in a position that their understanding is better but the comments of a few does not represent the comments and views of everyone,” he said.

“I really think it’s time we move on, they’ve got over the shock of the first four days of quarantine and we all get ready for what’s going to be a magnificent start to the summer.”

Former Australian player Nicole Bradtke said it was just a few “serial whingers” who were colouring perceptions of the players in lockdown.

“They’re kind of the same people that keep popping up throughout the year that might complain … and some of them have no reason to be whingeing,” she said.

“Lock me up in a hotel room for two weeks knowing that when I get out I’m going to get a hundred thousand dollars, and that’s just the least that they get.”

Men’s matches to remain best-of-five sets

A proposal to shorten men’s matches at the Australian Open so that players in hard quarantine aren’t disadvantaged has been quickly rejected by the tournament organisers.

Craig Tiley said there were no serious discussions about reducing men’s matches to best-of-three sets, rather than best-of-five.

“We haven’t entertained those comments or that position,” he said.

Mr Tiley said tournament organisers were looking at other ways to ensure that players having to endure hard lockdown weren’t disadvantaged, but hasn’t revealed what those measures might be.

“We’ll look at everything to create an even playing field for everyone because we now have a situation where 72 players are in the hard lockdown and they’re not going to have the same preparation as those that are getting up and practising,” he said.

He also defended world number one, Novak Djokovic, who has come under fire for issuing what has been referred to as a list of demands for easing some of the restrictions placed on players in quarantine.

“They were not demands, they were suggestions and ideas, as Novak always does,” he said.

“As number one player in the world he’s entitled to that.

“What he was trying to do was try to find an opportunity for those players in lockdown and he was trying to take care of his playing group.”



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Australian Open players raise concerns about potential injuries, lack of preparation due to COVID-19 quarantine


New Zealand’s Artem Sitak has sympathy for players concerned about the risks of competing after two weeks stuck in their rooms, quarantining in hard isolation ahead of the Australian Open.

But the Russian-born doubles specialist says players were made aware they risked being put into quarantine before the tournament and he was going to make the best of the circumstances.

“Especially for singles players, if they have to come out and go play a singles match, it’s very difficult, it’s extremely difficult,” he said of players’ concerns.

“I hope for everyone that they’ll be fine and there will be no injuries. It could happen.

“But as I said in my [social media] post, we knew the risk we were taking and Australia being very, very strict with their rules concerning the virus … this was always a possibility.”

Sitak is one of 72 Australian Open stars confined to their rooms in hotel quarantine after being on the same flight into Australia as a positive coronavirus case.

Players have tried to make the best of the situation. Social media posts from players in hard isolation shows them using upturned mattresses and hotel windows to practice in their hotel rooms.

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Tennis player Aryna Sabalenka practices against her hotel window during quarantine.

But there is anxiety among players about how the quarantine will effect their match fitness, as well as injury concerns.

Players such as Sorona Cirstea have raised issues about how prepared she will be to compete at the standard necessary to succeed at a grand slam event.

The Romanian said in a tweet she believed she would need “at least three weeks after [isolation] in order to be in decent form again and compete at a high level.”

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Many players share her concerns. Belgian player Kirsten Flipkens said she believed it was “insane” for players to play the tournament without any proper practice.

Bernard Tomic is seen through a hotel window playing with a tennis racquet
Australian tennis player Bernard Tomic exercises in his hotel room in Melbourne as one of the players quarantined ahead of the Australian Open.(AFP: William West)

The situation is made worse for these players in hard isolation, as many of their potential opponents have avoided hard quarantine.

Only four chartered flights bringing tournament players and staff have been effected so far, with at least a dozen more planeloads arriving in Australia without issue.

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Those players who arrived without positive tests on their planes will still be in quarantine, but — crucially — they will be permitted to go out of their rooms and train for five hours per day under restricted conditions.

Georgian tennis player Oksana Kalashnikova is among those players confined to a hotel room and unable to practise for two weeks.

Speaking to ABC News Breakfast, Kalashnikova acknowledged other players who were able to train had an advantage over those like her in hard isolation.

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Oksana Kalashnikova says she understands the frustrations of quarantined players

“Of course we are not in the winning position in quarantine and obviously the other players will have an advantage because we can’t really have the same amount of hours of practice,” she said.

Along with the competitive disadvantage her relative lack of preparation poses, she said she is concerned about the possibility that her changed routine could also make her more prone to injury once she recommences her typical training load.

“For any human being, if you are not doing the same amount of workout you can’t just go in and jump in and do the same amount of hours [of training afterwards],” she said.

“Personally, talking about myself, I am just going to raise my hours slowly just to go with how my body feels [not to] overload it in the first days.”

Kalshnikova said the players knew they’d be faced with at least mild quarantine measures, and that she was happy to follow the rules and deal with the situation in front of her now.

But she does believe more time to prepare for the open may have been helpful to the players.

Still, she is trying to make the best of the situation by doing workouts to stay physically active in her room.

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Psychological resilience may be the key to success

Former player and Kooyong Classic tournament director Peter Johnston said staying physically active and healthy would be crucial to the Australian Open success of the players in hard isolation.

But he said the players who were able to show psychological resilience and embrace training in these restrictive conditions would also be the ones who ultimately had the most success on the court.

“The physical aspect has to be managed, as we’ve talked about, but it’s really the one whose been able to keep everything together in their own mind and stay positive that will have the best results,” he said.

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Play Video. Duration: 4 minutes 28 seconds

Former player and Kooyong tournament director Peter Johnston says the most psychologically resilient will ultimately succeed.

He said players should be staying “mentally up” by keeping communication with people on the outside, as well as doing as much exercise as they can.

But he said getting that physical training for a sport like tennis would be a challenge in the confined space of a hotel room.

“Well it’s very restrictive in a sport like tennis, as you can see from what lengths they are going to, to actually try and find some way to try and maintain their touch and their fitness,” he said.

“I think diet is also another massive issue and they need to have as much available to them as they normally would have.”

There’s also the climate related adjustment for players to consider, having left colder climate for air-conditioned hotel rooms, away from the Melbourne summer weather .

“I’d be really hoping for a window that opens because you need to experience the fresh air. The conditions in Australia are so much more extreme than players who come from say, the northern hemisphere,” he said.



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