Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley has insisted that the grand slam tennis event will go ahead as planned after 72 players were forced to quarantine.
Players have been flying to Australia over the weekend ahead of the tournament, which is due to run from February 8-21. The event was initially due to commence today (Monday) before organisers opted to delay the tournament due to COVID-19.
The Australian Open has now been rocked after a number of players were on board flights which included passengers that have since tested positive for COVID-19.
On Saturday, organisers confirmed that two positive tests had been returned from a charter flight to Melbourne from Los Angeles that included 24 players. The two positive tests were returned by a member of the flight crew and a passenger who is not a player, but all 24 players on the flight will now be forced to quarantine in their hotel rooms for 14 days.
Later on Saturday, it was announced that one more positive test had been returned from a flight into Melbourne from Abu Dhabi that included 23 players, and yesterday a further positive test was returned from a flight from Doha containing 25 players. All players are in quarantine in their hotels, bringing the total number to 72.
Players will not be able to leave their rooms to practice and the situation has left players frustrated, with Romania’s Sorana Cirstea posting on Twitter that she would not have played “if they would have told us this rule”. Victoria state government minister Lily D’Ambrosio insisted that all of the prerequisites were made “very, very clear” to players.
Tiley has said there are no plans to postpone or cancel the tournament but Tennis Australia is set to consider how any warm-up tournaments can be altered to help the affected players.
“We are reviewing the schedule leading in to see what we can do to assist these players,” Tiley told the Nine Network. “The Australian Open is going ahead and we will continue to do the best we possibly can to ensure those players have the best opportunity.”
It has been reported that world number one Novak Djokovic, who is able to train in a bio-secure environment after arriving in Australia on a virus-free flight, has sent tournament organisers a list of demands to ensure players affected are able to practice.
The list reportedly includes a suggestion that players could be moved to private homes with tennis courts but Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews has insisted that there will be no preferential treatment.
He said: “There’s been a bit of chatter from a number of players about the rules – well, the rules apply to them as they apply to everybody else, and they were all briefed on that before they came and that was a condition on which they came. There’s no special treatment here … because a virus doesn’t treat you specially.”
Last month, Tennis Australia set out an initial plan for 25% capacity at the three main stadiums for the Australian Open, launching a zone-based ticket scheme focused on these venues.
Melbourne Park precinct is to be divided into three zones, each including one of the three major arenas – Rod Laver Arena, Margaret Court Arena and John Cain Arena. TA said each zone will offer its own unique combination of tennis action, live experiences and the culinary offerings for which Melbourne is renowned.