The first tennis Grand Slam of the season, the Australian Open, is all set to push through in 2021 despite the COVID-19 crisis still on-going worldwide. And as the tournament’s organisers and participants are finding out first-hand, there are significant challenges that come with holding the event amid a global pandemic.
The build-up to the Grand Slam, which will begin on Feb. 8, has been marred by controversy surrounding players’ complaints about the less-than-ideal quarantine accommodations, which have hindered their preparations for the tournament.
World No. 1 and defending Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic, as well as other players, have subsequently received backlash for their recent comments.
SBOTOP lists down all the latest news and updates on the Australian Open as the Grand Slam nears.
Novak Djokovic draws flak for quarantine demands
Men’s world No. 1 Novak Djokovic quickly made Australian Open 2021 news upon his arrival in the country as he reportedly made a number of demands to ease quarantine restrictions for overseas players.
A total of 72 players were forced into hard quarantine for 14 days after being aboard flights with confirmed positive coronavirus cases.
Djokovic reportedly called for numerous changes, which include: training materials in all rooms; elite athlete-level food; reduced isolation days for players; permission to visit coach or trainer; have player and coach on the same hotel floor; and access to private houses with a court to train.
Djokovic’s demands were summarily shot down by the tournament’s organisers. They also did not sit well with some on social media, especially after the Serb held an exhibition tennis tournament, the ‘Adria Tour’, back in June that was controversial for its lax health protocols amid the pandemic and became a super-spreader event.
Of course, Djokovic is not alone in voicing his displeasure at the accommodations in Australia. Argentina’s Roberto Bautista Agut likened his hotel quarantine to jail and has since apologised.
Djokovic has since come out with a statement claiming his “good intentions for my fellow competitors in Melbourne have been misconstrued as being selfish, difficult, and ungrateful.”
But despite the controversy surrounding him, the Australian Open 2021 betting odds still have Djokovic as the favourite to win his third-straight Aussie Open title and a record ninth title overall.
Andy Murray withdraws due to COVID-19
Despite the ongoing threat of COVID-19, the top-ranked men’s tennis players in the world — except for still-injured Roger Federer — are all set to take part in the Australian Open.
However, one big name who will be missing in Melbourne is Andy Murray. The former world No. 1 has withdrawn from the tournament after testing positive for COVID-19.
There was still a chance Murray could have competed, but he was unable to reach an agreement on a “workable” quarantine.
“Gutted to share that I won’t be flying out to Australia to compete at the Australian Open,” Murray said in a statement. “We’ve been in constant dialogue with Tennis Australia to try and find a solution which would allow some form of workable quarantine, but we couldn’t make it work. I want to thank everyone there for their efforts, I’m devastated not to be playing out in Australia. It’s a country and tournament that I love.”
Murray was awarded a wildcard berth in December and looked set to feature in the tournament for the first time since 2019.
Aside from being a two-time Wimbledon champion and US Open champion, the 33-year-old Murray is a five-time Australian Open finalist (2010, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2016).
New ATP Cup schedule set
The strict quarantine protocols have significantly impacted players’ preparations for the tournament. To help players get up to speed, the Tennis Australia has revamped the schedule of the ATP Cup, which now will be held from Feb. 2-6 at Melbourne Park.
The ATP Cup is a 12-country tournament which began last year. Serbia, led by Djokovic, are the defending champions.
Djokovic, as well as fellow top-four players Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem, and Daniil Medvedev, will all be in action in Day 1 of the event.
“This has been a particularly challenging time for the athletes in hard lockdown and we, along with the WTA and ATP, aim to do everything we can to help,” Australian Open Tournament Director Craig Tiley said.
“These changes to the lead-in events have been made to give the 72 players a little bit of extra time to help them prepare. We also will prioritise them for things like practice sessions, gym and ice baths.”
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