Lockdown: Players getting on with life in Australia
Tennis players with no way out are figuring out how to keep fit while preparing for the Australian Open within the confines of their Melbourne hotel rooms.
Angelique Kerber, who won the Australian Open in 2016, spent her birthday in quarantine on Monday. In the past, she has sometimes spent the day playing games or preparing for games later in the tournament.
This year, when the season opening Grand Slam event didn't begin until February 8 due to travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, she had to be content with a message sent by the organizers of the Australian Open on the occasion has been published on social media.
Kerber is one of 72 players quarantined for 14 days after five positive coronavirus tests were returned from charter flights that brought nearly 1,200 players, coaches, officials and media to Melbourne for the so-called Happy Slam.
This means that these players are not allowed to leave their hotel rooms or exercise for 14 days, which results in two speeds of preparation time for the tournament. Others in less strict quarantine are allowed to practice for five hours a day.
These outdoor sessions started in Melbourne on Monday. A smaller group of players who landed in the South Australian capital Adelaide, including Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, are also allowed to train outside under bio-safe protocols.
Players like Yulia Putintseva and Belinda Bencic initially complained on social media posts that they were poorly informed about the quarantine rules, but found ways to practice indoors by hitting balls against walls and windows and setting up other unique sessions.
Some players have expressed anger at being classified as close contacts simply because they were on board charter flights with people who later tested positive. However, local authorities, tennis and health authorities have stated that all players have been given timely warning of the risks.
"Some players have talked a bit about the rules. Well the rules apply to them just as they do to everyone else and they were all informed of it before they came and that was a condition they came on," said Daniel Andrews , Prime Minister of Victoria. "There is no special treatment here ... because the virus doesn't treat you specifically, neither do we."
In response to unconfirmed reports that Djokovic, an eight-time Australian Open champion, proposed a list of ideas to change quarantine conditions for players, Andrews replied, "People are free to provide lists of requirements, but the answer is no."
Australia's international borders are largely closed, although there are exceptions in special circumstances. All arrivals must be quarantined. Every Australian state and territory has its own border and travel restrictions which can change at very short notice.
The state of Victoria, whose capital is Melbourne, was responsible for 810 of the 909 deaths in Australia from COVID-19, most of them during a fatal second wave three months ago that resulted in curfews and lockdowns for the city.
As a result, there has been some local debates about whether it is right to host a Grand Slam tournament attended by people from parts of the world where the coronavirus is still taking a heavy toll.
With that in mind, Australian health and government officials are taking no chances.
So far, three people have tested positive from a flight from Los Angeles to Melbourne since landing in Australia and together with Sylvain Bruneau, the coach of the 2019 US Open champion, Bianca Andreescu, who had traveled from Abu Dhabi, stayed in a Medi-Hotel and another person who traveled from Doha, Qatar. All passengers on these three flights - including a total of 72 players - are in a forced quarantine. So far, no players have returned positive tests since arriving in Melbourne or Adelaide.
Players have been warned that breaking the rules could result in fines or be transferred to a safer quarantine complex with police on their doors.
Victoria State COVID-19 Quarantine Commissioner Emma Cassar said over the weekend there would be "zero tolerance" for people who try to break the rules.
"This is to ensure the safety of the people," said Cassar, who is also responsible for the state prisons. "We're not apologizing for that."
If they cannot leave their hotel rooms, it means that some players can only exercise with exercise machines that remain in their rooms.
The director of the Australian Open tournament, Craig Tiley, remains convinced that the tournament will start on February 8th. The organizers would have to "create an environment for those who cannot exercise over the next 14 days".
"It's a difficult situation," he said in a television interview over the weekend. "We have to do everything we can to make it as fair as possible to the players who are in lockdown."
Lockdown: Players Getting On With Life In Australia originally appeared on NBCSports.com
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