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Australian Open COVID-19 quarantine crisis

Angry players have said that they may never have travelled for the Australian Open had they known that quarantine measures would be so strict.

A women’s player has also said that it will be impossible for the 47 players currently in hard quarantine to be in adequate condition for the Grand Slam, while another branded her sudden isolation “torture”.

The Australian Open was plunged into chaos on Saturday when three positive cases of COVID-19 were detected across two incoming international charter flights, amid 17 total flights. One of the cases was from among the flight crew on a plane from Los Angeles.

One of the cases has been confirmed as the coach of former US Open winner Bianca Andreescu, Sylvain Bruneau, who said that he was “deeply sorry” and had tested negative before flying from Abu Dhabi.

Everyone on the affected planes have been placed in hard lockdown and will not be able to practice during a 14-day period. Under initial Australian Open plans, all players were meant to have a five-hour window to practice, train and eat during quarantine.

Women’s players Yulia Putinseva and Sorana Cirstea, the world No.28 and No.71 respectively, said that they may have skipped the Australian Open had they known there would be such strict rules on COVID-19 close-contacts.

“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. I would think twice before coming here,” Putinseva wrote on Twitter.

“Because they said, you have to only if you or one of your team members is positive! Not a random person on the plane.”

Putinseva’s isolation was worsened by the ill-timed appearance of a rodent in her hotel room.

Cirstea agreed with Putinseva, saying that she would need three weeks of training and practice to return to peak form after two weeks sitting idle.

Cirstea highlighted previous comments from Australian Open tournament director and Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley, that players could not perform in a Grand Slam after two weeks confined to a hotel room.

“I want to go home, but I’m not allowed,” Cirstea wrote on Twitter.

World No.53 Alize Cornet, who was not an affected plane, claimed that players were told they would only be subject to hard quarantine if their “section” of a plane contained a positive result for coronavirus.

In a since-deleted tweet that was met with backlash, Cornet wrote: “Soon, half of the players from the AO will actually have to isolate. Weeks and weeks of practice and hard work going to waste for one person positive to COVID in a 3/4 empty plane. Sorry but this is insane.

World No.12 Belinda Bencic said that the hard quarantines had made Australian Open preparations deeply unfair.

World No.86 Kirsten Flipkens avoided the affected planes but said that it was “insane” for players to be locked up for two weeks. She suggested that the Australian Open should be pushed back from its February 8 start date.

World No.99 Marta Kostyuk told Ukraine media that isolation would be unbearable.

“We can do nothing as the authorities will never allow us to go out,” she said.

“It’d be fair if the other players were also in such conditions but such an initiative must come from them.

“I think there will be more positive tests on other flights. As for me, I haven’t received the results of the test yet and many other girls from my flight are also waiting for them.

“We also need comfortable conditions of being in such a strict isolation. The wifi isn’t very good and some girls don’t even have it.

“Being alone is such a torture and at the same time we can’t even call our coaches. Moreover, we also need treadmills or bicycles. I didn’t ask for them before flying here as I wasn’t going to stay in my room the whole time.

“Once the isolation is over, we must have preferences in training so that we could use those several days to prepare. But anyway, it’s obvious that good preparation is almost impossible in such a short term.

“Finally, the organisers have to schedule our matches as late as possible. I definitely understand that it’d be extremely difficult to fulfill all these wishes.”

Some big names were caught up in the two affected flights.

There were 24 players on the Los Angeles plane, including former Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, 2017 US Open winner Sloane Stephens and Japanese men’s star Kei Nishikori. The Abu Dhabi flight contained 23 players, including Grand Slam winners Andreescu, Angelique Kerber and Svetlana Kuznetsova.

An Adelaide player hub including stars like Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams has been unaffected.

There was already anger over the Adelaide hub, restricted to 50 people, as it has better facilities. Due to the presence of an available gym in the hotel, it is believed that top players can use more free time practicing on court and still train outside of their five-hour window.

“Normally the players have no problem with this hierarchy, because it is about Rafa or Domi (Dominic Thiem) practicing at the best time on Centre Court. Now they are allowed to practice more. It’s really unfair if you look at it objectively,” doubles player Philipp Oswald, who was placed in hard quarantine, told tennisnet.com.

“But that’s the balancing act that Tennis Australia has to manage. They wanted to please the top players so that they would even come. I don’t know if all the players would have got on the plane if they had known that if one of the 80 passengers had a positive case, they would have to be put into a hard quarantine. I’m also not sure if Rafa or Novak would have come if they had the same hotel as we do.”

Pable Carreno Busta and Fabio Fognini, the world No.15 and No.17 respectively, have slammed the food dished up in quarantine. World No.28 Benoit Paire opted for a McDonalds delivery.

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