Australian Open boss says ‘vast majority’ of players back hard quarantine

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australian Open boss Craig Tiley said on Tuesday most players supported being locked down in hard quarantine as a government official reported three new cases of COVID-19 might be linked to participants of the Grand Slam.

More than 70 players and their entourage are confined to their hotel rooms for 14 days and unable to train for the Feb. 8-21 Australian Open after passengers on three charter flights returned positive tests for the novel coronavirus.

Some players have complained about the conditions, and men’s world number one Novak Djokovic sent governing body Tennis Australia requests for quarantine restrictions to be eased, drawing a backlash from Australians.

Victorian premier Daniel Andrews said he would not make changes and the measures were essential to stop the spread of the virus.

Tiley said he had a call with 500 players to address concerns and the “vast majority” had been supportive of Australia’s strict protocols.

“The vast majority, most of them have been fantastic and been supportive,” Tiley told the Nine Network.

“(They) know that this is the contribution that they have to make in order to get the privilege of when they do come out to compete for A$80 million ($61.46 million) in prize money.

“So we will turn the corner on those few that don’t have the right approach to this. But the rest have been really good.”

Tiley, however, conceded that the 72 players in hard quarantine were at a disadvantage to rivals who arrived on other flights and can train up to five hours a day.

“Yes, it’s not an even playing field as far as preparation goes but we’re going to play our part to try to even it up as much as possible,” he said.

Organisers found support from former world number one Victoria Azarenka, who urged her fellow players to “accept and adapt” to the health regulations in Melbourne and show empathy towards the local community.

Former French Open champion Albert Costa said it was not easy for the players to be stuck in their rooms ahead of a major but they have no option but to stay strong and get through it.

“I think that at least the Australian Open are making the effort to give the opportunity to the players to compete,” Spaniard Costa, who is the tournament director for the Davis Cup Finals, told Reuters.

“They are doing everything for the players, they are doing it in good faith and the players I think understand that. If it was me, for sure I would be playing there.”

Costa’s countryman Roberto Bautista Agut, however, described the situation as a “complete disaster”.

“It’s like (being) in a jail,” Bautista Agut, ranked 13th, told Israeli television channel Sport 5. “It’s the same (as being in prison), but with Wifi.”

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews reported four new cases of COVID-19 in hotel quarantine on Tuesday and said three may be linked to Australian Open personnel.

The infections added to four linked to the tournament cohort on Monday.

Andrews told reporters some of the cases might be reclassified as “viral shedding” from historical infections, which could allow some players and officials to be released from hard quarantine.

($1 = 1.3017 Australian dollars)

Reporting by Ian Ransom, additional reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai and Martyn Herman in London; Editing by Richard Pullin

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