The world’s best tennis players have had an abrupt introduction to the world of hotel quarantine and isolation upon their arrival into Australia.
Of all the players set to compete in the first major of the season, 72 are now in hard quarantine after three of the 17 charter flights were impacted by positive COVID tests.
Some players have criticised the hard quarantine, saying they did not know that everyone on a flight would have to quarantine in the event of a positive test, although that has been contradicted by some other players.
Regardless, the increase in restrictions the players are facing has come as a shock to their collective systems. So why is that?
What have the rules been at other tournaments?
Like most sports around the world in 2020, tennis endured a hiatus of several months, with tournaments, including Wimbledon, cancelled across the world.
Those tournaments used very similar protocols to those being used in Australia.
At the US Open, players were placed in a bio-secure bubble, with allocated hotels close to the National Tennis Centre site at Flushing Meadows.
Players were regularly tested, twice within 48 hours of arriving in New York before being accredited, and then re-tested every four days after. At the Australian Open, players will be tested every day.
Heading off site, including visiting Manhattan, was banned and players had to wear masks when not on court.
The US Open even moved a warm-up event, the Cincinnati Open, to Flushing Meadows to reduce the amount of travel for players, much in the same way that the pre-Australian Open tournaments were moved from Perth, Brisbane and Sydney to Melbourne.
Players were told to wear masks at all times apart from playing, as well as subjecting themselves to daily temperature testing and a questionnaire before being allowed access.
The rules around the French Open, which took place two weeks after the conclusion of the US Open, were similar.
Were the players OK with that?
There was some dissent at the conditions imposed on players for the return to tennis.
Novak Djokovic, who has also called for changes in quarantine for players in Australia, criticised the conditions that were imposed for the US Open, saying it would be “impossible” to play tennis.
“The rules that they told us that we would have to respect to be there, to play at all, they are extreme,” Djokovic said in an interview with Serbian TV prior to the tournament.
“We would not have access to Manhattan, we would have to sleep in hotels at the airport, to be tested twice or three times per week … we could bring one person to the club which is really impossible. I mean, you need your coach, then a fitness trainer, then a physiotherapist.”
Rafael Nadal also didn’t travel, questioning the safety of travelling during the pandemic.
“The situation is very complicated worldwide, the COVID-19 cases are increasing, it looks like we still don’t have control of it,” Nadal tweeted ahead of the Open.
“This is a decision I never wanted to take but I have decided to follow my heart this time and for the time being I rather not travel.”
He had no such qualms about travelling to France though, where he won a record-extending 13th French Open title.
Lack of quarantine around the world
Normally, the life of a tennis pro involves multiple smash-and-grab raids around the world — players fly in to a city, play and then fly out again once they’re done.
However, that’s not possible in Australia due to the federal requirement to quarantine.
Limiting returned travellers and hotel quarantine has been the pillar of Australia’s defence against coronavirus, and the players had to abide by those rules too.
“The rules apply to them as they apply to everybody else,” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said.
“That was the condition on which they came. There’s no special treatment here. Because the virus doesn’t treat you specially. So neither do we.”
The Australian Open attempted to limit the likelihood of exposure by laying on chartered flights, thereby not allowing players to travel with the general public.
Are all the players in hard quarantine?
Not all of them.
Those players who have not been exposed to a positive case are still in quarantine, but are permitted to train for five hours per day under restricted conditions.
Each of the three hotels has its own, separate training facility to limit mixing between hotels.
Players are escorted by COVID marshals to and from the training centre, which has a one-way system in place to stop any possible mixing.
That includes the 50 or so players and staff that are in Adelaide who, due to a lack of space available in Tennis Australia’s quarantine hotels, were moved to South Australia.
The rules there are the same as in Melbourne, although no players tested positive on the flight to Adelaide, so they are also able to train.