Quarantined tennis players get creative amid Australian Open recriminations

This article is more than 1 month old
  • Hotel rooms made into makeshift training centres
  • Anger and frustration permeates lead-up to tournament
Tennis players in hotel quarantine
01:23
Australian Open players forced to isolate in hotel rooms after multiple Covid-19 cases – video

Last modified on Mon 18 Jan 2021 23.36 EST

Carpet, as it turns out, is not a like-for-like substitute for a hard court. But, as Australian Open competitors are fast learning, surfaces are what you make of them.

The same goes for mattresses, walls and double-glazed windows, all now proving their worth as essential apparatus in an athlete’s preparation for a grand slam.

Amid the confusion and complaints – and the odd mouse intrusion – players are getting inventive with the resources available to them in quarantine.

Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic, Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas, Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva and Britain’s Heather Watson are among more than 100 players and staff now in hard lockdown in Melbourne, after four new positive cases linked to the tournament were revealed on Monday.

The quartet – along with other players – shared footage of themselves training inside their hotel rooms. Within these makeshift training centres, balls have been smashed into bed linen, volleys practised against high-rise windows and 5km run in tiny hallways.

Georgian player Oksana Kalashnikova said on Monday she had been contacted by Tennis Australia to inform her she and her peers would receive exercise bikes, free weights and other training equipment.

Despite that, she said, “for all my workouts, four hours a day of tennis is missing”.

“Most of them [the players] can’t even get the physio into the room. Most of us are not young in the quarantine and we have to look after our bodies. The massage and all the therapies, we can’t get, so it’s tough.

Against the backdrop of creativity is anger and uncertainty, as players holed up in isolation protest they were not fully informed of the rules by organisers before boarding their flights.

“What I don’t understand is that, why no one ever told us, if one person on board is positive the whole plane need to be isolated,” tweeted Putintseva, whose hotel experience was compounded by the presence of a mouse which prompted a request to change rooms. “I would think twice before coming here”.

Quarantining players who were not on the affected charter flights are allowed to train at Melbourne Park, the National Tennis Centre and the Albert Reserve courts for up to five hours each day. Some, such as men’s world No 4 Daniil Medvedev, are living in comparative luxury.

Others, such as men’s world No 1 Novak Djokovic, No 2 Rafael Nadal, women’s world No 3 Naomi Osaka and No 11 Serena Williams, are in Adelaide, where players reportedly have access to a hotel gym and can be accompanied to the practice courts by their entire entourage.

Austrian doubles player Philipp Oswald, who is in quarantine in Melbourne, said players who flew in to South Australia to quarantine before an exhibition tournament in Adelaide were given more freedom that had been noticed by those based in Melbourne.

“Conditions are much better in Adelaide. First, players were allowed to take a lot more staff with them,” Oswald told Tennisnet. “They also have a gym in their hotel. So they don’t have to do their fitness exercises during the five-hour period. You only have the five hours to play tennis. There was a huge discussion and the other players were also upset.”

Bencic also bemoaned the “unequal practice/playing conditions”. “We made our decision to come here from rules that were sent to us,” she tweeted. “Then we arrived and received an information/rule book with more/new rules that we did not know about.”

Cirstea said the rules had been “changed overnight” and if she had been told the rules from the outset she “would have stayed home”.

However, New Zealand doubles player Artem Sitak, who was on the flight from Los Angeles, said Tennis Australia had made the rules clear in advance.

“I want to clarify something,” Sitak said on Sunday via a video posted to his Instagram account. “We had a call with Tennis Australia about a month ago and not a lot of players were on that call, which was surprising to me.

“Basically, Tennis Australia, the organisers, told us the risks they were going to be undertaking and they did mention that if somebody tested positive on a flight, it’s going to be up to the health authorities to decide whether to quarantine all the flight or isolate compartments of the plane.

“In our case, where the flight attendant tested positive, of course the whole plane has to be quarantined.”

Sitak continued to say “I think we need to put some things in perspective”.

“A lot of Australians right now cannot get back home because of the restrictions and all that,” he said, “and we as foreigners are over 1,000 people here in Australia, competing in a grand slam and earning a lot of money.”