Tennis: Australian Open to plough ahead despite players' quarantine anger

Ian Ransom, Reuters

Posted at Jan 17 2021 10:16 AM

Tennis balls are pictured in front of the Australian Open logo before the tennis tournament. File Photo. Thomas Peter, Reuters

MELBOURNE - Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley has confirmed the year's first Grand Slam will go ahead from Feb. 8 despite anger from players forced into hard quarantine in Melbourne due to positive COVID-19 cases on their charter planes.

Forty-seven players and their entourages have to isolate for two weeks in Melbourne in their hotel rooms and no longer be able to leave them to train after three coronavirus infections were reported on two chartered flights carrying them to Melbourne.

Other players who have landed in Australia are also undertaking mandatory 14-day quarantine but are permitted to leave their hotels for five hours a day to train, raising questions about the integrity of the Grand Slam.

Tiley said the tournament would start as scheduled but governing body Tennis Australia would look at altering the lead-up tournaments 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 on Sunday.

"Obviously it is not what we wanted to happen. That is why we took the mitigating measures, but we are in this situation, we have to deal with it.

"The Australian Open is going ahead and we will continue to do the best we possibly can do to ensure those players have the best opportunity."

Players said they had not been adequately advised they would be effectively detained in their hotel rooms if a positive test was found on their planes.

Romanian Sorana Cirstea, the women's world number 71, said on social media: "If they would have told us this rule before, I would not play in Australia. I would have stayed home.

"They told us we would fly at 20 per cent capacity, in sections, and we would be a close contact only if my team or cohort tests positive."

Swiss player Belinda Bencic said she and the other 46 players were at a disadvantage.

"We are not complaining (about being) in quarantine. We are complaining because of unequal practice/playing conditions before quite important tournaments,” she said on social media.

Sylvain Bruneau, the coach of 2019 U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu, confirmed he was one of the three Australian Open participants who tested positive.

Bruneau was on the chartered flight from Abu Dhabi and his positive test meant the entire plane, including 23 players and their entourages, needed to isolate.

He said he had tested negative within 72 hours of his flight and felt "perfectly fine" when he boarded the plane.

"I am extremely saddened and sorry for the consequences now on everyone’s shoulders sharing my flight," Bruneau said in a statement issued by Tennis Canada.

"The rest of my team is negative and I sincerely hope that any further disruption is kept to a minimum."

Andreescu's agent did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters.

The other affected chartered flight was from Los Angeles.

Two dozen players and their entourages on that flight were put into hard isolation after an aircrew member and a non-playing passenger tested positive. 

(Additional reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Sonya Hepinstall)

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