Tennys Sandgren, a quarterfinalist at the Australian Open two of the past three years, is headed to Melbourne in preparation for the first major of 2021. His presence comes with raised concerns and questions however, after Sandgren set off alarms on his Twitter account Wednesday.
In the late afternoon Pacific Standard Time, the ATP's world No. 50 revealed he tested positive for COVID-19 this past Monday. According to Sandgren, it’s the second time he’s come up positive in less than two months after contracting the coronavirus over Thanksgiving.
“At least I get to keep my points,” he joked, after questioning the “gold standard” of PCR tests.
Covid positive over thanksgiving— Tennys Sandgren (@TennysSandgren) January 13, 2021
Covid positive on monday
Yet pcr tests are the “gold standard”?
Atleast I get to keep my points ????
The narrative soon changed. Three more tweets followed, going from "maybe" flying tomorrow to "trying to get me on" to finally, "I'm on the plane... Craig Tiley is a wizard." The latter update came just 75 minutes after Sandgren's initial revelation.
Forty-two minutes later, Ben Rothenberg shared that a charter flight departing from LAX had returned to its gate. Karen Crouse, Rothenberg's New York Times colleague, confirmed the news as one of the passengers on board. A competitor who wished to remain anonymous told us by text message, "Not sure what exactly is happening, if they are keeping him on or off. Just have no idea."
I can verify that this is true ????— Karen Crouse (@bykaren) January 14, 2021
Not long after, the Australian Open account stepped in to explain why Sandgren had been permitted to board in the first place, releasing a thread of three tweets.
"Some people who have recovered from COVID-19 and who are non-infectious can continue to shed the virus for several months. Victorian Government public health experts assess each case based on additional detailed medical records to ensure they are not infectious before checking in to the charter flights.
"Players and their teams are tested every day from their arrival in Australia, a much stricter process than for anyone else in hotel quarantine."
It appeared Sandgren remained on the flight in question, with the American declaring, "A lot [of] couch virologists out there. My two tests were less than eight weeks apart. I was sick in November, totally healthy now. There’s not a single documented case where I would be contagious at this point. Totally recovered!"
While Sandgren's motivation for the tweets is only known to him, there's no denying the choice caused an unnecessary stir. For one, the country graciously welcoming the 29-year-old has worked tirelessly to mitigate the coronavirus over the past several months. As of Wednesday, Victoria had just 35 active cases—18 locally and 17 in hotel quarantine. Then, there's the work Tennis Australia put in behind the scenes with government officials to open doors to 1,270 international players and various personnel. Though the Australian tennis summer was delayed by three weeks, the collaboration ultimately resulted in getting four weeks on the 2021 calendar, including three in Melbourne.
It's understood that players are unable to travel Down Under at a later date, after both sides mutually agreed on chartered flights arriving over a two-day period. Competitors will then begin a 14-day quarantine in Melbourne (or Adelaide for a select group of top-ranked players) and be limited to five hours outside of their hotel room per day. After completing the period with five more negative tests, players can roam freely.
Australian Open officials released a follow-up statement a few hours after the tournament's initial tweets to further clarify Sandgren's clearance. It read:
A year ago at Melbourne Park, Sandgren took down Matteo Berrettini, Sam Querrey and Fabio Fognini in succession to reach the final eight. He held seven match points against Roger Federer, but failed to close out the Swiss in their fourth set. Federer would prevail, 6-3, in the fifth.
We'll continue to monitor and update this developing story.