For some, the sporting calendar is even more off this month than normal. That’s because the Australian Open would be entertaining insomniacs, alcoholics, angry loners, and the unemployable late at night under normal circumstances. The tournament has been pushed back three weeks to better fit in Australia’s strenuous and thorough protocols for dealing with COVID-19. And that’s causing tennis players collectively to shit a chicken.
Seventy-two players have been confined to their hotel rooms only for two weeks in Melbourne. That’s because even though overseas travel is banned to Australia at the moment (more on this in a sec), the tournament chartered seven flights from various locations around the globe to control and monitor the 1,200 players and player-staff that come for the tournament. On three of those flights, someone tested positive (including one player), which means that everyone on that flight has to be quarantined for 14 days.
Various social media posts have shown how players are trying to deal with the lockdown, practicing/working out in their rooms as best they can. That doesn’t mean they’re doing it happily. Roberto Batista Agut compared it to “prison with WiFi.”
If this sounds like perhaps the most pampered athletes in the world throwing their toys out of the crib, it kind of is. But on the other hand, there are some grounds. All the players who flew in on non-contaminated planes are allowed out of their rooms for five hours a day and can practice. Those who flew to Adelaide for a pre-Aussie Open, the invitation-only A Day At The Drive, are under fewer restrictions as well. And those are the top players in the world like Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka, who already have something of an advantage due to the training staff they’re able to afford to bring with them everywhere. They were flown to Adelaide ahead of those in Melbourne, and will get practice and match time that the latter group simply will not.
Djokovic tried to address this with suggestions for Tennis Australia and the Australian government. He was met with something just short of laughter. Part of that had to be due to Djokovic losing any standing whatsoever when it comes to COVID thanks to his Adria Tour adventure in the summer that saw him and three other players test positive after not following any sort of guidelines in dealing with the virus. Djokovic asked for players to be moved to private homes with private courts, as if there’s a plethora of those lying around and ready for rent.
Nick Kyrgios, an Aussie who has not partaken in any COVID-era tournaments and remained in Australia, was vocal about Djokovic’s idiocy then and wasn’t less so now:
Bernard Tomic’s girlfriend complaining about having to wash her own hair in that video is clearly the chart-topper here, especially when you consider the context. One, there are or were some 40,000 Aussies stranded overseas thanks to the country’s ban on overseas travel. They can’t go home. The shuttling in of tennis players and staff while citizens remain elsewhere has not exactly been met with a shrug, and is of course wholly unfair.
Second, Australia is one of the few nations that has had a handle on this virus, and this is the price to pay to have that. The country has seen less than 1,000 deaths and a peak of 400 new cases in a day in the summer (compare that with the similarly populated Florida, and then prepare your shoulders to slump all the way to your ankles). This is what it takes to keep a country’s people safe, and in that sense, some tennis players having to spend two weeks in a hotel, when Aussie citizens have been under these restrictions themselves before and currently, is hardly something out of “Fortress.”
You can see where the players’ complaints, to a point, come from. Some have suggested pushing the tournament even further back to accommodate them. That would be for players to work out the kinks and stiffness of being stuck in a room for two weeks. These are highly tuned and trained athletes that almost certainly never take two weeks off, and that in-home workouts can’t replicate their usual regimens, especially before a major tournament. They would need a week or two or more to ramp back up to where they were. That’s not a blatantly ridiculous suggestion, and yet that move hasn’t been made.
The world will never starve for content of tennis players complaining.