Forty-seven players were not allowed to train for two weeks on Saturday in a major setback for their Australian Open preparations after passengers on two charter flights that took them to Melbourne tested positive for Covid-19.
One of the positive tests was returned by Sylvain Bruneau, coach of Canada’s 2019 US Open winner Bianca Andreescu.
He said he was “sad and sorry for the consequences” after arriving on a flight from Abu Dhabi.
All on board the two flights, considered close contacts, have been ordered to stay in their hotel rooms throughout the 14-day mandatory quarantine period.
This means that none of them are allowed to exercise during the five hours every day that have been agreed as part of their build-up to this year’s opening majors, said Tennis Australia.
It included 24 players on a plane from Los Angeles, where a crew member and another passenger, reportedly a coach, tested positive.
According to local media, former Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, 2017 US Open winner Sloane Stephens and Japan’s Kei Nishikori were among those on board.
Twenty-three players, including Grand Slam winners Andreescu, Angelique Kerber and Svetlana Kuznetsova, were on a flight from Abu Dhabi.
Bruneau said he had tested negative within 72 hours of the flight departing from the bay and “felt perfectly fine when I boarded.”
He insisted that he had followed all the protocols while in the Middle East.
“I have no idea how I could have gotten this virus.”
He added: “The rest of my team is negative and I really hope that further disruption is kept to a minimum.”
‘Hard work is wasted’
French player Alize Cornet, who is in Melbourne but was not on any pitch, called the situation “crazy”.
“Soon, half of the players from AO will actually have to isolate,” she tweeted.
“Weeks and weeks of practice and hard work that are wasted for a person who is positive for Covid in a 3/4 empty plane. Sorry but this is crazy.”
Other players claimed that the rules for containment have changed.
“We do not complain about being quarantined,” tweeted Belinda Bencic, Swiss world number 12.
“We complain about uneven training / playing conditions before fairly important tournaments.”
Romania’s Sorana Cirstea, ranked 71st, tweeted: “I planned to play the tournament because they promised a 5 hour quarantine exemption daily where we could train, train and rehabilitate. This was the deal before we signed up for this … but the rules changed” over the night “!”
People who complain that we are right. I have no problem staying 14 days in the room and watching Netflix. Believe me, this is a dream come true, even a vacation. What we can not do is Compete after we have stayed 14 days on a couch. This is the issue, not the quarantine rule.
– Sorana Cirstea (@sorana_cirstea) January 16, 2021
The world’s top players began arriving in Australia on Thursday for the delayed Grand Slam, which will start on February 8.
Most concerned in Melbourne, although the biggest names in the game, including Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams, flew into Adelaide.
Everyone must undergo a 14-day quarantine, but must stay for five hours daily to train in strict biosafety bubbles ahead of a host of warm-up tournaments, all in Melbourne, the week leading up to the Grand Slam.
According to the Melbourne Herald Sun, the flight in Los Angeles was the same that triggered controversy on Thursday when the American player Tennys Sandgren tweeted that he had been allowed to board despite returning a positive test.
It was his second positive result, after being diagnosed with Covid-19 in November, but Victorian state health chiefs insisted his infection was historic and he had “met the strict health criteria set”.
Players were only allowed to board with proof of a negative test before departure, or with approval as a recovered case according to the Australian Government’s assessment, as with Sandgren.
It was the latest setback for a tournament that has spent months working through the logistical nightmares of hosting a Grand Slam during a pandemic, and Melbourne only emerged after months of lockdown in October.
The tournament has already lost some key players, with Roger Federer injured and world number 25 John Isner choosing not to travel due to coronavirus restrictions.
The three-time winner Andy Murray tested positive for the virus and isolates at home in London and doubts whether he will be able to play.
American world number 16 Madison Keys also tested positive and pulled out.
Meanwhile, Dominic Thiem arrived in third place without coach Nicolas Massu, another to test positive, and Nadal misses his coach Carlos Moya who has decided not to make the trip.