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Play in Melbourne Tennis Halted by Covid Outbreak

By Alix Ramsay

With just four days to go before the start of the Australian Open, more than 500 players and officials have been told to isolate in their hotel rooms as they nervously await the results of yet another Covid test.

The players and officials are all deemed to have been “casual contacts” of a security guard at the Grand Hyatt who has now developed the virus. He was on duty during the players’ quarantine period at the hotel and last worked there on January 29. He returned a negative test after his shift but later developed symptoms. He and his family are now in isolation while the health authorities are frantically trying to trace anyone who was anywhere near him over the past few days.

Healthcare workers stand at a personal protective equipment station inside the Grand Hyatt Melbourne in Melbourne, Australia, 12 January 2021 (re-issued on 03 February 2021). Hundreds of players, officials and support staff preparing for the Australian Open Grand Slam tennis tournament are having to test for the coronavirus COVID-19 disease after a worker at one of the tournaments quarantine hotels, the Grand Hyatt Melbourne, tested positive for the virus, media reports stated on 03 February 2021. EPA-EFE/JAMES ROSS

So far, they have identified 14 locations ranging from driving ranges to kebab shops to supermarkets and have published a list of dates and times when the man visited those sites. Anyone who was in the vicinity is encouraged to get tested and isolate until they are shown to be free of the virus.

As a result, there will be no play at all at Melbourne Park on Thursday bringing the six tournaments that are being held there simultaneously to a screeching halt. What happens next depends on the results of those tests.

Australia’s response to the pandemic has been severe with lengthy and extremely strict lockdowns while travel between states restricted or banned, much less travel between countries. But after nearly a year of pain, the infection rates across the country are almost zero. Or they were until now.

Daniel Andrews, the premier of Victoria, reacted swiftly and immediately imposed new restrictions on the city of Melbourne: masks are to be worn indoors, gatherings of more than 15 people are banned and the much hoped for return to work for many people has been put on hold. The government had planned to get 75 per cent of the workforce back in harness on Monday but that will not happen now. As for the tennis, Andrews was trying to be hopeful but he was not exactly reassuring.

As he announced the possible suspension of play in the warm-up events until the test results came through – a move that was later confirmed by Tennis Australia – he was not yet ready to threaten the start of the Open. “At this stage there is no impact to the tournament proper,” he said. He did not mention what might happen if any of the players or officials tested positive.

Until now, it had all been going so well. Everyone had completed their quarantine – be it hard or soft – and everyone was back on court. With six events running side by side, there were matches everywhere which left the casual observer a little confused. With each day that passed, there were winners and losers but the following day’s order of play never seemed to get any smaller. And as for who was winning which round in which tournament – that seemed all but irrelevant. After months of inactivity, there were fit, young people running around again and biffing balls; that was all that mattered.

Oddly enough, after such a long break, not a lot seemed to have changed. Nick Kyrgios won his first match in a year but only after an argument with the umpire. Warned for a time violation – he was taking too long to serve – Kyrgios walked up to the umpire, Nacho Forcadelle, and told him he was not willing to play on until he had a guarantee that he would not be fined. Calling for the supervisor and delaying proceedings by five minutes, Kyrgios finally got his assurances and went on to beat his countryman, Harry Bourchier, 6-2, 7-6 to reach the third round of the Murray River Open and, should they ever get the all clear to play again, next faces Borna Coric.

Serena Williams racked up her second win of the week in the Yarra Valley Classic (not to be confused with the Gippsland Trophy or the Grampians Trophy…do try and keep up), moving past Tsvetana Pironkova 6-1, 6-4 and into the quarter-finals. There she will play Danielle Collins who beat Karolina Pliskova 7-6, 7-6. So far, there seems to be no sign of the Achilles injury that hobbled her at the end of last year and she appears to be fit and ready for the fight.

Serena Williams of the USA wears a face mask as she leaves the court after winning the Round 2 Yarra Valley Classic – WTA 500 match against Daria Gavrilova of Australia at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 01 February 2021. EPA-EFE/DAVE HUNT

Serena is one of the few people who was pleased that the Open was pushed back by three weeks as it gave her more time to train once her heel was strong enough to cope with the workload. Even the two-week quarantine was something of a bonus for her – and in that, she really was the lone voice in the crowd.

“So far so good, and that’s super exciting,” she said. “I think what we have been doing lately with my team and my physio, we have just been — every day they have been just killing me with different exercises to do for it [the Achilles].

“It’s finally getting better, which I’ll do anything not to have that injury, because it actually affects my life. Like, I feel like knee injuries are different, but this Achilles injury is you physically can’t walk. So I feel great now, and I have to do a little more fitness on my ankles and Achilles, but that’s totally fine.

“I worked really hard in my little offseason. I really feel like having Patrick around, like, those two weeks that we were in quarantine and all we could do is play and focus, I feel like whenever he’s around full-time, we get so much accomplished and our goals are so much in line with each other and so many fabulous things happen, and I think that’s what’s happening.”

The first fabulous thing would be for everyone to stump up a negative test and get the go ahead to return to work on Friday. If not, it may all have been for nothing.