Getting stuck in hard quarantine has disrupted training for a wave of players in Melbourne, and now it looks like it could also disrupt the week of warm-up events scheduled before the Australian Open.
There are currently 72 players who who have come into contact with positive cases and are not allowed to leave their rooms during their two weeks of quarantine, while the rest of the field is allowed to practice for five hours a day.
Next, there are two WTA events, two ATP events and the ATP Cup team competition scheduled in Melbourne the week before the season's first Grand Slam.
Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley told press that the two WTA 500 events could now be delayed by two days, according to The Australian, while the draw sizes could also be reduced.
A delay would help the players in hard quarantine, allowing them to practice on the courts before the events begin. But some could choose not to play, and those who have been training appear likely to have an edge.
"I’m not too sure what the extent of the advantage will be, but it’s certainly an advantage," Tiley said.
Alize Cornet and coach Sandra Zaniewska head to a practice session in Melbourne. (Getty Images)
A former collegiate coach, Tiley acknowledged that top level players take "couple of weeks at least and longer to get to the maximum preparedness."
But Tiley insisted the Australian Open would still be best-of-five sets for the men's event, adding, “Right now, three out of five sets for the men and two out of three sets for the women is the position, we plan on sticking to it. In order for us to pull this off, we’ve had to do it with great partnership with quarantine Victoria, with the Victorian government and that is working really well.”
But there have been complaints from players about the conditions, especially for strict quarantine. Novak Djokovic had called for improvements in a letter to Tiley. The most recent criticism was from Roberto Bautista Agut, speaking during a phone conversation that was shown on Israeli television.
“These people have no idea about tennis and about practice courts, and it’s a complete disaster," Bautista Agut said. “The control of everything isn’t Tennis Australia, it’s with the government. You can work in the room but it’s not the same. I feel very, very tight and I cannot imagine staying two weeks like this. It’s really, really tough. I will have to work a lot mentally.”
Bautista Agut has since apologized, saying he did not know the comments were publicly shared.
Some have also noted the more spacious rooms provided to higher-ranked players, in particular the suites for top names like Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Serena Williams, Simona Halep and Naomi Osaka in Adelaide, rather than in the three player hotels in Melbourne.
''I get the feeling that it's perceived as preferential treatment,'' said Tiley. "But they're the top players in the world, it was an advantage for us to get the additional quarantining space and it's a great opportunity for Adelaide. Nature of the business—you are going to get a better deal."
Tiley said that those in Adelaide, unlike Melbourne, had a balcony and an on-site gym.
But otherwise, he added, it was "not dissimilar to what the players in Melbourne have," and they had four-and-a-half rather than five hours of training.
The six players in Adelaide, along with two others, will also play an exhibition event there. The top players were allowed to bring more team members with them than the lower-ranked players.