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Wayne Arthurs Australian Tennis Legend with James Duckworth Australian Tennis Player Share Traveling The Tour During COVID19 – Second article in a series during quarantine

Wayne Arthurs of Australia returns a shot during his match against Jan Hernych of Czech Republic at the St. Petersburg Open tennis ATP tournament in St. Petersburg, Thursday, 26 October 2006. EPA/ANATOLY MALTSEV


A tumultuous 15 months has passed since my 40 hours round trip to the USA. Covid 19 has ravaged the world with no country immune to its uncompromising devastation on life, economies and international relations.

Brisbane airport is eerily quiet. Welcome to international travel or lack thereof in Australia.

The Australian government has shut the borders to international travel for the last 15 months and only travellers who are granted travel exemptions are allowed to leave the country. Fortunately, tennis players and their support staff are on that exemption list.

I haven’t travelled internationally since March 2020, 15 months ago. Late 2020 I teamed up with James Duckworth one on one, so I was back on the tennis merry go round. For the last 31 years straight, I had taken an international flight at least 3 times a year every year. So, to see a completely empty airport, except for 15 passengers checking in for our flight to Europe was an eye opener into travel 2021 style.

Travelling is now the ability to be extremely organised with all the protocols needed pre-flight. It’s not just your ticket and passport anymore! You need travel exemption forms from the Australian government, invitation letters from each tournament, travel exemptions for the country you are travelling to, PCR tests, antigen tests, vaccinations the list goes on and on.

This is where my first trip in 15 months gets interesting and the first in a bizarre series of travel days during this 8-week journey. James, having lived with all these protocols for the last 6 months of life on tour was fully up to speed and he was my teacher of this new world.

Pre-flight you need a PCR COVID test to show you are negative of the virus before boarding the flight. These tests generally take less than 24 hours to process, and you are notified by email which you show at airport check-in. 7am Monday morning (30 hours before our flight) we both got tested at the same drive through covid testing site. 12pm Tuesday (2 hours before the flight) our results are yet to be processed. Mild panic setting in, we contact the covid processing office directly and politely demand our results asap. This seems to do the trick and within 20 minutes we get the prized email of a negative covid test. Ready for our Singapore flight route to Parma, Italy – Brisbane via Singapore to Milan. Simple!

“Passports please,” murmurings from the check in supervisor, “you know you have to have a negative covid test no more than 48 hours before landing in Italy.” (Every country has different rules on this).

Yes, we knew this. The delay in processing the test had cost us critical hours and now we are going to be 3 hours over the time limit by the time we land in Italy. We are not allowed to board the flight to Milan from Singapore. What a start to the trip!

Thinking on our feet, luckily James knowing the varying rules of different countries, if we could get to Zurich, Switzerland from Singapore we could do a rapid antigen test (15-minute turnaround for results) in Zurich airport, which the Italian customs accept. Thankfully, the supervisor in Brisbane was extremely helpful and he was able to make the necessary changes to our flights. James purchased an extra flight from Rome to Milan (no direct flights to Milan from Zurich) via an online website and we are back in business. New itinerary – Brisbane to Singapore. Singapore to Zurich. Zurich to Rome. Rome to Milan. An extra flight and over 7 hours added to the journey but at least we were on our way! Incredibly weird experience to be on board an international flight with only 15 people. It felt like you were doing something wrong. With Singapore’s international borders also closed, arriving in a deserted Singapore airport was surreal. Only 9 passengers boarded the ongoing Zurich flight, so I made the most of it and stretched out over 4 empty economy seats! Next stop Zurich. Good night!

It was certainly a different story on arrival in Europe. A much more liberal attitude, almost normal feeling in the airports, passengers everywhere. The one exception is you must have a negative covid test before flying. We had to locate that rapid antigen testing area within the airport. Luckily easily found with ample signage. A quick, deep tickle up the nostrils and within 15 minutes we had our prized ‘negative’ email confirmation needed to board our flight to Rome. No social distancing on these flights! On a fully booked flight we eventually touched down in Milan via Rome. We were met at the Milan airport by tournament transport who drove us the 180km to Parma. Mandatory covid testing on arrival at the hotel, the first of what will become normal life on tour, and room confinement until a negative result is acquired. 38 hours after leaving Brisbane airport we have navigated the ‘new world’ travel day!

We used the Parma tournament as a tune up for the French Open the following week. James had come home to Brisbane at the end of March after a 3rd round run and career best win over David Goffin the Miami 1000. He had to endure 2 weeks of hotel quarantine back in Oz but knew it was going to be the only time he was going to be able to get home the whole year. We had a great training block for 4 weeks after quarantine and even though we had sacrificed most of the clay court season, I was sure it would pay dividends.

Predictably, keeping the length of travel, jetlag and general fatigue in mind James lost early. But now more adjusted to the time zones, sleeping patterns and energy levels increasing we could head to Paris for a few days of hard practise before match day the following Monday.

We searched for Paris flights and decided on very well-priced tickets flying out of Florence 140km away. James booked the tickets online through Iberia (Spanish airlines). Negative PCR tests in hand (a prerequisite for travel throughout Europe) we embarked on our weekly travel day. We were driven the next morning by tournament transport to Bologna train station 60 kms away where we caught a 60-minute train to Florence. A short taxi ride to Florence airport, we had arrived 2 hours before the scheduled departure time to Paris. Simple process and nothing out of the ordinary or so we thought. Upon checking in we notice the flight is a codeshare flight with Veuling airlines (a German owned airline). It’s normal for flights within Europe and around the world to be affiliated with other airlines and share their aircraft on various routes.

We handed our passports in and put our bags on the scale. “Sorry you are not booked on this flight,” a 10-minute argument ensues where we state our case and show the email from Iberia showing we are in fact booked on this flight. The problem we encounter is a first for both James and myself. Iberia has forgotten within their booking system to correlate the ticket number and booking number with that of Veuling. So, in Veiling’s system our booking didn’t exist. Stress levels go through the roof, we are told you must contact Iberia directly to solve the problem. The help from Veuling staff is now over, they are giving us nothing. Of course, no Iberia ticketing office open within this small regional airport of Florence. We frantically call the Iberia hotline, getting only automated voices and no human contact. 60 minutes of calling and we are beaten by Iberia’s lack of response. Mentally frazzled, and no way to get to Paris tonight, as it is 6 pm, we have no other choice but to book flights for tomorrow and book a hotel room back in Florence for the night. F@#$! We forlornly jump into a taxi and head back into Florence to our 80 Euro a night hotel (which turns out to be decent for the price). James has booked an Air France flight at 12pm for the following day, unfortunately for double the price of the original flight.

A new day and refreshed from a very tasty Italian pasta dinner and a good night’s sleep, we jump onto the airport tram which is conveniently located directly outside the hotel front door. What a difference a day makes, everything runs smoothly, and we arrive safely in Paris albeit 18 hours later than planned.

Every story has a silver lining! Apart from finding a very good cheap hotel in the middle of Florence, a tasty authentic Italian restaurant nearby and travelling on the local airport tram, Iberia airlines, recognising their mistake, gave us a full refund for the price of the flights on Air France and paid for the hotel. A Charlie Sheen moment!

Great to be back in Gay Paree, one of my favourite places and tournaments on the tour, but what a difference a pandemic can make. Arriving at the Novotel hotel, one of two hotels where the players are allowed to stay, much of the infrastructure that is usually onsite at Roland Garros is within the grounds of the hotel. The Novotel has been transformed into a tennis bubble (gym, accreditation, dining, physio, massage, transportation and of course covid testing) housing the best tennis players in the world. But from all reports, it was a huge improvement on Roland Garros 2020 held in October, where the tournament organisers were making things up on the fly as they came to grips with the pandemic.

 Again, upon arrival all players and support staff must have a covid test and be confined to their rooms until a negative test result has been received. Only then are you allowed to get your tournament accreditation to go onsite. Every 3 days whilst still in the tournament you are required to have a covid test.

Awesome improvements to Roland Garros since I was last there in 2015, especially the new roof, facilities at Philippe Chatrier and the upgrade to Jean Bouin have brought the French Open in line with the 3 other Grand Slams.

Game day for James. Primed and ready for action after 3 days of productive practise. 3 ½ hours of quality tennis on a very warm afternoon and he had won his first ever match at Roland Garros. Some revenge for his loss he suffered to Salvatore Caruso at the US Open.

Unfortunately, Duckworth went down 2nd round in 4 sets. But with the first-round monkey off his back we head into grass court season with confidence. The best time of the year on the tour but I might be biased!

We migrated via a 4-hour TGI train (high speed international train) from Paris to Stuttgart, Germany. At least half a dozen like-minded tennis players have joined the ride to compete in the first grass court event of the session. The covid protocols on trains relative to air travel is not as tightly policed, so anytime a tennis player can avoid travel hassle in these times he will take the lower road! It was certainly nice for James and I to have a stress free travel day and arrive at our destination without delay.

Stuttgart’s is a ‘soft bubble’ tournament. Meaning all the same covid protocols but the tournament allows you 60 minutes a day to go out of the court/hotel confines. It’s a token gesture but for the players who have done weeks of strict bubble tournaments it’s a welcome change from the hotel walls.

James just missed out on the main draw even though ranked 80 in the world. He won through 2 tough rounds of qualifying and had a great top 50 win against Adrain Mannarino before losing a closely fought match against grass court specialist Sam Querrey – a good building block for something bigger during the grass court swing.

Another full travel day aboard the German train system lands us at the Halle 500 series tournament. A tournament that the great Roger Federer has made his own. 10 titles and the main road heading to the arena named after him. James has a rough last round qualifying after blowing a big lead. To make matters worse, Ivashka, the player he lost to get an opportunity to play Federer first round. A kick in the teeth but lots to be positive about in terms of putting himself in a winning position. Next stop London.

Heading for the English mainland has been made more difficult by recent policy changes. If someone aboard your flight tests positive to covid you are deemed a close contact. Hence you must self-isolate for 10 days before being allowed back into the community. Airline travel from Germany to the UK is not feasible. The alternative is the train, and this is where our next travel adventure begins.

Halle, Germany to Bielefeld, Germany to Cologne, Germany to Brussels, Belgium to London, UK to Eastbourne. UK 10 hours total travel time across 3 countries is the quickest route possible.

30-minute tournament transport ride to the train station of Bielefeld to kick start the day. We arrived 25 minutes before the train’s departure to Cologne a 75-minute journey away. We must change trains in Cologne but have 45 minutes between trains so no problems right! Standing on the platform in Bielefeld we notice the information screen flash the words ‘verspatet 25 minute’. German was delayed 25 minutes! No stress yet as we still have a 20 minute leeway before our connecting train departs. The screen changes, verspatet 39 minutes. The armpits start to get a little moist. As we finally board the train, we now have 6 minutes to change trains and platforms to get our connecting Intercity Express (ICE) train to the Eurostar train in Brussels. We are urging the train driver to speed up, but it’s a local train and must stop at a couple of stops along the way. 20 minutes away from Cologne the train slows down to a crawl for no real reason, simultaneously on the in-carriage screen “Cologne > Brussels train will not wait”. Major panic button pressed! We get back up to speed but have lost another 4 minutes. Only 2 minutes to change trains. We painfully inch into the 14-platform wide Cologne train station at 10:44am, one minute before the departure of our Brussels bound (Intercity express ICE). Pulling into platform 7 I spy the distinct look of the ICE train on platform 8. Its our train! A glimmer of hope! The train doors open, and we fly out into a full sprint. James leaves me for dead. Bags flapping in the breeze behind him. As he is about to go down the stairs adjoining the platforms, being 10m behind and still on the platform, I see our train pulling out of the station. At the bottom of the stairs James is slumped, bags thrown down in a frustrated mess completely dejected! Missing that train means we have no way to connect with the only train that leaves from Brussels to London today. The Eurostar trains are on limited timetables due to covid, the next Brussels to London train is not until 3pm the following day.

With the next match day in Eastbourne Saturday, we needed the best solution to our dilemma. If we wait until 3pm tomorrow for the Brussels Eurostar to London we will waste another day’s chance to practise on the grass. Thinking laterally, if we could get to Paris tonight, stay overnight we could be on the 9am 2 ½ hour Eurostar train tomorrow morning and into London by 10:30am (1 hour time change). Eastbourne transport would drive us down in Eastbourne by 130pm, enough time to do the protocols and get a light hit later in the afternoon. Thankfully our missed train to Brussels was easily changed to the next one in an hours’ time and a connecting train from Brussels to Paris, only a 75-minute journey, leaves 60 minutes after arrival in Brussels. We arrived at the Gare du Nord train station, Paris at 6:45pm where James had booked a hotel 150m from the station. We chose a hotel close to the train station. Easily walkable to the hotel and back to the station in the morning for our 9am Eurostar journey in the morning. The hotel choice was for ease of travel rather than comfort. A corner hotel with a tiny reception, narrow spiral staircase leading to the rooms and a lift in which you couldn’t fit both luggage and self. The room itself was very small with one old, wooden framed window that didn’t close properly. The lack of air-conditioning added to the 33 degrees outside temperature, topped off a glorious day.

After a sweaty night’s sleep (James, an excessive sweater had several showers throughout the night), we wearily walk the short distance to join the customs line to board the Eurostar to London. Heading through customs is always a little nervy. With so many forms and protocols in covid times you are always hoping you have your ducks in a row. I handed my multiple forms and passport into the custom officer. To my complete surprise he recognises my name. “Australian Davis cup, big left-handed serve, I see you play many times at Roland Garros”. It was a surreal moment but made my customs process very easy as he just stamped my passport and wished me all the best. Finally found my only fan!

The train pulls out of the Gare du Nord, finally heading towards the UK. It’s a very familiar ride for professional tennis players as most take the train from the French Open over to London for the grass court season each year. As the train reaches cruising speed (220kmh) we relax, trying to catch up on lost sleep from Faulty Towers last night. Not 20 minutes into the journey and the train glides to a slow crawl then a complete stop, “what now” we say to each other. We don’t need this right now. 30 minutes passes and we haven’t moved an inch without any PA announcements explaining what’s going on.

One hour of no movement and an announcement in French chimes through the cabin, “papier sur la ligne.” Now my French is not great but I said to James, “I think they said there is a piece of paper on the line.”

I think to myself, surely not! That can’t limit the progress of a super train, can it? What a mindboggling trip we are having. For another 40 minutes we are stranded by this piece of paper in the middle of some French wheat fields. Eventually over 90 mins late, we start rolling again.

As we reach British soil an announcement in English explaining the paper situation. Apparently, a plastic bag had wrapped itself around the overhead electrical wires impeding the trains progress. How’s our luck!

Upon arrival at London St Pancreas international train station, we locate our Eastbourne transport driver. We had phoned ahead alerting him of our delay but still apologised for keeping him waiting. We flopped into the minivan anxious for the last 110km drive down to Eastbourne to be over. Chinese torture ensued as we had arrived at lunchtime in the middle of London. The first 300m of our torturous ordeal took us 25 minutes to navigate. We slumped in our seats resigned to our fate. 3 ½ hours had passed as we finally unloaded our gear at the Lansdowne Hotel on the rainy shores of Eastbourne. Covid protocols done, we enter our hotel rooms 33 hours after departing Halle, Germany. The shining light was we were able, between the rain showers, to get a 45-minute hit in before it got dark. Mission completed!

James continued to show good form at Eastbourne qualifying stylishly before going down in a tough 3 setter, in which he had a match point, to eventual semi-finalist Max Purcell who had the best week of his young career. 3 tough, competitive matches for James sets him up very nicely heading towards SW 19.

Back up the M23 motorway towards the Park Plaza, Westminster in central London our ‘bubble home’ for The Championships. Eastbourne and Wimbledon being an extended bubble we were ferried in a socially distanced manner (capped amount of people in separate seats) on a 40-seat coach. Strict protocols and exemption forms must have been completed upon arrival at the Park Plaza.

Once in the Plaza bubble there was no escape. Every second day you were alerted to get a covid test and on arrival as per usual. Coaches within the hotel confines shuttled players and their support staff to and from the Wimbledon grounds on 30-minute rotations. The hotel, as was the case with the French Open, was set up with all the amenities needed for the players to compete at their peak. A huge dining area set up for 3 meals a day, fully equipped gym and golf simulator were highlights. The lolly stand was a big hit for those who needed to console themselves after a tough loss. Some coaches may have overutilized it also! The whole setup was a vast improvement from the French Open, as each Slam learns from the others shortcomings.

From my point of view James’s form was better than it looked on paper. His grass court loses had been against players who went onto makes at least semi-finals in the events or would go onto have some great results over the upcoming summer in the US. Things happen for a reason and in some little way had the travel woes are just a test of resilience.

Certainly, his whole career had been a huge test of resilience. 8 surgeries and an inability to play a full tour season due to injuries over the last 6 years must give you an amour shield.

The campaign kicked off with the perfect start and straight sets win over the crafty Moldovan Radu Albot. More confidence in the pocket. A Stuttgart rematch with former Wimbledon semi finalist Sam Querrey awaited. A couple of tactical changes, an ability to keep the tall American off balance and a massive will to make this his best Wimbledon run ever, James got his revenge on the biggest stage. A huge feather in his cap and a day that would be one of his most memorable. Unfortunately, the following round carrying a slight niggly injury sustained at the back end of the Querrey match, he lost in a rain interrupted 3 sets to number 20 seed Sonego. But a 3rd round appearance in a grand slam for the first time is sweet reward for true persistence and resilience!

Wimbledon was the last tournament of my planned trip. I have been away from my family for over 6 weeks and due to Australia’s international travel policy it will be another 2 weeks before I am able to see them in person. 2 weeks hotel quarantine without an opening window and no human contact is something you don’t wish upon your worst enemy. But that is another story!

Australian Wayne Arthurs returns the ball to Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden during their first round match of the Stockholm Open ATP tennis tournament in the Royal Tennis Hall in Stockholm, Sweden, Wednesday 27 October 2004. Bjorkman won the match 4-6, 6-4, 3-2. EPA/CLAUDIO BRESCIANI

Editor’s Note:

Wayne Arthurs (Australian)
Turned Pro: 1990
Height: 6’3”
Highest ATP Singles Ranking: 44 (July 9, 2001)


1999 – Qualified at Queen’s Club in London and advanced to 3rd round, losing to eventual winner Sampras … Qualified for his first Wimbledon and advanced to 4th round without dropping his serve in 111 games, a span of six matches, including three in qualifying … Posted victories over Santopadre, Lapentti and Haas before losing in four sets to eventual finalist Agassi, who ended service streak with a break in the third set…

At age 28, made his Davis Cup debut in SF tie in Brisbane against Russia and beat No. 2 Kafelnikov in 2nd match and Safin to lead 4-1 victory…

Qualified at Wimbledon and advanced to 4th round, holding serve 111 straight games (including three in qualifying) before falling in four sets to Agassi …

2001 – Helped his country to third successive Davis Cup final…

2003 – Captured doubles title in Rotterdam ( defeating Federer – Mirnyi)