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Players warm-up to strict quarantine at Australian Open

MELBOURNE — Australian Open boss Craig Tiley said most players supported being locked down in hard quarantine with the local government reporting three new cases of COVID-19 linked to participants of the Grand Slam on Tuesday.

Victoria health officials said two previous cases have been classified as prior infections taking the total positive cases associated with the tournament to seven.

“The new positive cases linked to the Australian Open involve two players and one non-playing participant,” said a statement from the health department.

Tiley said athletes who tested positive were not considered contagious and were still at their regular accommodation.

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.

The two cases reclassified would, however, not change the status of the players yet and they will continue to serve the rest of their strict isolation.

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

Victorian premier Daniel Andrews said no changes would be made and the measures were essential to contain the virus.

Detailing the quarantine measures on a media conference call, Tiley said one of the seven infected people associated with the Grand Slam was a flight attendant.

“For the 1,270 (that arrived), having six positives is a low percentage so that’s a percentage to manage,” Tiley said, refuting some players’ claims that they were not made aware of the protocols before travelling to Australia.

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 earlier told the Nine Network, adding that the negative reactions came from “initial shock” due to the strict measures.

“(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 hoped a successful Australian Open can provide a boost for organisers of the Tokyo Olympics later in 2021.

“I hope it gives the Olympic Games confidence that it can be done,” he said about the quadrennial multi-sport event, which was postponed in 2020 to this year.

“I think we can provide a lot of intelligence; if we pull this off I’m a lot more confident that the Olympic Games will be able to happen too.”

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.

Tiley ruled out shortening the Australian Open or any change of schedule or format but said organisers were considering pushing back the warm-up events by a few days.

Players are scheduled to play leadup events at Melbourne Park from Jan. 31 at the conclusion of their isolation.

TA 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.

Costa’s compatriot Roberto Bautista Agut, however, described the situation as being in a “jail but with WiFi” only to apologize later.

“I thank all the people who are making playing tennis again possible,” Bautista Agut, ranked 13th in the world, said in an Instagram post. — Reuters

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