There are growing concerns among tennis players about the conditions enforced upon them at the Australian Open, as tournament organisers continue to negotiate with Victoria state chiefs in order to hold the event.
Plans for players to jet into Australia in mid-December have been scrapped, with state officials deciding that they cannot enter the country before the end of December.
That has now put serious strain on plans. Qualifying was due to begin on Tuesday 12 January. At this stage it remains uncertain if players would even be allowed to practise during their quarantine.
That has not yet been signed off by state authorities and there are concerns inside the tennis world of asking players to start playing a Grand Slam straight after a 14-day quarantine in a hotel room.
Brazil’s Bruno Soares, Jamie Murray’s former doubles partner who also sits on the ATP player council, believes such conditions would be ‘very dangerous’.
He said at the O2 on Wednesday: ‘If we have to go quarantine for 14 days inside a room and then go play a Grand Slam, I mean, 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.
‘But, I mean, if we have to do it, we have to do it. It’s far from ideal, but again, I mean, it’s not in our hands so it’s tough to say. I will go there and compete in whatever conditions they present.
‘I know they are working hard to give the players the best possible conditions. Let’s hope it’s something that we can at least practice and prepare ourselves for for the whole year.’
British No. 1 Johanna Konta, who sits on the WTA player council, believes it would put their bodies at ‘risk’.
‘From my perspective, my body wouldn’t be able to handle two weeks of de-conditioning, and then pushing me into the deep end,’ the 29-year-old told the BBC.
‘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.
‘I think in an ideal world, players would get the opportunity to play one or two warm-up events. But I think this year has probably taught us there’s everything but probably ideal.’
Tennis Australia are still exploring options. It’s hoped players would be allowed to practise during quarantine – something Victoria premier Daniel Andrews has said is still up for discussion – but if not, it is possible that the tournament could be pushed back.
That may happen anyway, with other Australian events – all of which are set to be hosted in the state of Victoria rather than being spread across the country as usual – all hoping to go ahead. A delay to the Australian Open would create space in the calendar for them to go ahead.
The knock-on effect, of course, is that ATP and WTA events in February could be severely impacted – if they were to happen at all – but, in truth, a Grand Slam would likely take priority.
Melbourne has reported no new cases of Covid-19 for 19 days but a recent outbreak in Adelaide after three months of no cases. It’s been suggested by South Australia’s health officer Nicola Spurrier the source came from its quarantine hotel.
There will undoubtedly be fears of losing the top talent at the event if quarantine rules are strict.
Roger Federer, for example, is due to make his return from a second round of knee surgery. It seems unlikely he would be willing to play a best-of-five sets Grand Slam after spending two weeks locked in a hotel room.
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