By Seth Gellman
Weeks before it was scheduled to start, there was uncertainty surrounding the Australian Open and if the tournament would go on. Organizers and Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley (who is also director of the Australian Open) were in negotiations about what would happen for the opening Grand Slam of the year.
It was decided that players would be put on chartered flights to enter Melbourne three weeks before the tournament, which would start on February 8. Players would be quarantining but entitled to five hours of time per day to practice with their limited teams. If there were any positive tests before or after the planes were boarded, players would have to quarantine without the five hours of training.
Some players decided to skip the tournament, notably Roger Federer. The Swiss said that he didn’t want to be away from his family for so long, and many also speculated that his knees still might be healing from surgery last February. Andy Murray also could not participate after testing positive for COVID-19, and had to stay in Britain to quarantine for two weeks. He couldn’t come to an agreement with Tennis Australia to enter the tournament.
However, some players were offered more members of their team to join them. The players on the men’s side that were offered to stay in Adelaide were Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and Dominic Thiem, the top three players in the world. On the women’s side, Simona Halep, Serena Williams, and Naomi Osaka were offered a spot to stay in Adelaide. However, this condition was agreed to in the event that exhibitions are played by the top players before the Australian Open.
Several players have complained about the inequality, such as Frenchman Jeremy Chardy. Chardy argued that it would be clearly unfair and a massive advantage for players in Adelaide, as they have a gym to do their workouts without the exercise counting toward their five hour limit. Tiley later said that he believed the best of the best would always get a favorable deal, despite denying favoritism earlier on.
Entering the country, there were several positive tests on flights, which meant that all passengers needed to quarantine. In total, 72 players and their entourage were forced to quarantine. Some players complained about potential injuries and how some players will have an advantage with training, but were criticized by many in the country for their comments. Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut faced sharp criticism for calling the quarantine a “prison with WiFi.” He later apologized.
As a result of the situation, World No. 1 and PTPA (Professional Tennis Players Association) President Novak Djokovic privately made some suggestions to Tiley. According to journalist Fernando Murciego, that list included: fitness and training material in every room, “decent food,” according to the standard of a professional athlete, decreasing the amount of quarantine time and increasing testing, ability to visit a fitness trainer as long as both the trainer and player have passed the PCR test, if the previous proposal is agreed to, then put players and their coaches on the same floor of the hotel, and to move as many players to private houses with a court as possible.
There was a lot of backlash to Djokovic’s leaked requests. Australian Nick Kyrgios, who has clashed with Djokovic in the past, called him a “tool.” Djokovic later came out and said that his requests were misconstrued.
There will be three tournaments leading up to the Australian Open: The Murray River Open, Great Ocean Road Open, and ATP Cup starting on February 1. After an unusual 2020, players are looking forward to the Australian Open and their 2021 season.