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Confidence, Exhaustion, Planning and Luck All Needed in the Tennis Tour During Covid – Wayne Arthurs Australian Tennis Legend with James Duckworth Australian Tennis Player Give Us An Insight – Final article in a series during quarantine


Australia is certainly not making international travel any easier! With passenger caps reduced and no direct flights to the USA possible, going back overseas for the US Open and beyond was a complicated decision for many reasons. Leaving my family again only 5 weeks after returning from Wimbledon was my biggest consideration.

This trip started with a virtual round the world journey and the beginning in a series of travel days that had to be documented.  Winston Salem, North Carolina my first destination, a lead up tournament before the US Open. With the normal 14-hour direct route to Los Angeles from Brisbane out of commission, via the Middle East was the only route possible.

Now an expert with pre-flight protocols, travel exemptions and negative PCR tests, the first leg of my 14-hour Qatar airlines trek to Doha had begun. Hassle free flight on a ¼ full flight allowed me to stretch out across 3 vacant seats. No such luck on the second leg to Philadelphia. The flight is completely full, and I am seated in an aisle seat located near the toilet. Anyone who has been seated near the toilet knows, this area becomes a throughfare of passengers as their bladders seemingly become the size of peas the longer flights go. The constant pulling on the corner of my seat, bumping my elbow as passengers grapple for balance with turbulence makes for a long, restless journey. 15 hours of zero rest and a bruised elbow later, I arrived in Philadelphia completely buggered. Not there yet, a 2 hour wait and a 90-minute flight to Winston Salem to go. The smiling face of the tournament transport driver met me planeside in Winston and within 30 minutes I had finally arrived at the tournament hotel in downtown Winston Salem. 38 hours (15-hour time change) later.

James had stayed overseas in the time I went back to Australia and continued his great Wimbledon form with a very impressive run in the Toronto Masters 1000. He qualified and lost to eventual champion Daniil Medvedev in the round 16, beating now Top 10 player Jannik Sinner along the way. Winston Salem was another opportunity to fine tune and keep confidence high before the Us Open next week. A rough result in the first round after having 5 match points and dominating the last 2 sets, he lost 76 in third. Patch up time, a couple of good practises days and a quick switch of focus, we headed towards the Big Apple with excitement for the main event.

A 120 km Uber drive and 90-minute flight from Charlotte, North Carolina we arrived at La Guardia airport, the closest of 3 international airports in the New York area to Manhattan. Upon arrival, we shared a 30-minute uber ride with Italian player Stefano Travaglia and his coach to the official tournament hotel in midtown Manhattan. US Open tournament officials had announced pre-tournament of full crowds and no player bubble. Except for periodic Covid testing throughout your tournament stay, players and the support staff were free to roam the city as they pleased. Covid testing took on a new form during the tournament. Everyone on their Covid testing days were given a small plastic test tube to fill up with 10ml of your own spit and submit the contents to the official Covid testing supervisor. No one watches you spit as you are behind a closed curtain area when performing your duties. Not a watertight method by any stretch of the imagination!

James’s brother, Nick, lives in New York where he owns and runs 2 thriving restaurants (Banter and Sonny Boy) downtown near the Soho area. Great fresh food, relaxed atmosphere and a touch of home-grown Aussie’s hospitality thrown in (Gratuitous plug). So, James loves the opportunity to catch up, talk NFL and have his brother stay with him just to normalise things for a couple of weeks.

Wow, a day after arriving James gets a text from Stefano Travaglia. ‘My coach has covid’. A tense 48 hours (our next testing day) ensues. If you test positive or a close contact (are we considered a close contact having been in the same Uber, this is unclear) you are not allowed to compete in the tournament. We are thinking surely, we will be ok as we are both fully vaccinated and at this stage Travaglia (also fully vaccinated) himself hasn’t tested positive.

Luckily, on testing day 3 we are both negative. The stress cloud over our heads dissipates!

Monday game day arrives. Great to see crowds rocking into Flushing Meadows, albeit only the fully vaccinated are allowed to enter the grounds (a contentious issue but the world can’t move forward without it). James comes into the match with good practise form and a liking for the quicker, bouncy conditions. A diversity in court speed from the normal slow, gritty courts experienced on tour week to week must be something the sport’s governing body must look at for the well-being of the game. Why not have surfaces that reward an all-court aggressive type of player? It would expand these baseliners skill set and only add to the overall spectacle. Just my humble opinion! I digress!!

In hot, sunny conditions James plays a near flawless 2 hours of quality aggressive tennis. 2 sets up and 5 match points in the 3rd set, tennis can be a brutal sport. This is going to be a rough one to process!

Our schedule shifts over to Europe for 4 weeks after the US Open.  A Covid depleted ATP calendar has led to this decision. A run of tournaments throughout Asia is the norm post the Open, but the whole Asian swing has been cancelled.

Our initial schedule had a French challenger pencilled in the second week of the US Open. Taking into consideration the disappointments of the past 2 tournaments and a long schedule to finish the year, a joint decision to pull-out of the challenger and refresh in New York for 8 days was reached.

A few days down time, reflection and we are back into some physical work with some light hitting. Second day into an on-court technical session James pulled up a little tender with a groin issue. Nothing totally serious but something that will need constant physiotherapy attention and a rehabilitation program to recover in time for the next tournament.

Thursday night we leave for Istanbul, Turkey 6 days after the injury was sustained and 5 days before James’s next match. Tournament transport drives us out of mid-town Manhattan, and we arrive 60 minutes later at Newark International airport. The 10pm Turkish airlines flight awaits to take us on the 11-hour journey across the Atlantic. Our bad luck continues, the flight is delayed 90 minutes due to inclement weather. Better to be safe than sorry, but still annoying. On our initial ascent we fly straight over the top of Manhattan, an incredible view as the lights of Times Square illuminates the night sky. Sometimes, amongst the hustle and bustle, you must stop and appreciate things. Thankfully, our overnight flight is not at capacity and James is able to lie flat over 4 seats aiding in recovery of his groin. Every little thing helps.

We arrive in Istanbul airport at 5:30pm local time, 10:30am New York time. It seems like every flight into Istanbul has arrived at the same time. Customs is packed. 60 minutes passes before we are processed. A smooth transition into the awaiting tournament transport van upon locating our baggage and we are ferried 50 minutes away to the harbourside Fuat Pasa Yasili Hotel. 19 hours after leaving our Manhattan hotel we are ready for bed! But as anyone who has travelled from the USA across the Atlantic will know this is the most difficult time change to negotiate. The 7-hour time change, going back in time, is an absolute killer. Your body clock is sent into total turmoil. Just another obstacle to overcome. The other major obstacle to overcome with this hotel was the daily wedding ceremonies. From 6pm to past midnight every night of our stay a wedding and its subsequent after party rung out through the entire hotel. Thankfully James’ room must have been soundproofed as he didn’t hear a thing all week. My room on the other hand seemed like I was part of the band, it didn’t matter, as I was wide-awake struggling with jetlag anyway.

James is top seed for the event adding its own pressures. Coming to a challenger tournament as favourite where only a tournament win is a pass mark, requires mental strength. It’s never easy playing a challenger event after competing at a Grand Slam. Dealing with a slight injury is also a distraction. These are the things we spoke about and must be kept in perspective. Just respect your opponent, focus on competing and stick to the process.

James showed incredible professionalism throughout the tournament. Overcoming limited preparation due to his injury, shaking off the disappointment of the previous weeks tough losses and digging deep mentally to win the tournament losing only one set all week. It was a very important win for James’s confidence and made the decision to play the tournament totally worthwhile. I was enormously proud of him.

Preparation is key to easing stress, especially on travel day. But sometimes no matter how much preparation you put in; the best way is not that easy. Travelling to Nur Sultan 250 tour event was one of those days. A visa on arrival in Nur Sultan is a prerequisite and that is sorted on arrival in the airport by tournament officials and customs within the airport, so no issue there. The issue arises by the fact your first port of call into Kazakhstan must be Nur Sultan. With zero direct flights from Istanbul to Nur Sultan, finding a flight via somewhere in Europe that then goes directly into Nur Sultan was proving challenging. Considering it is late Sunday afternoon upon finishing the final and having to play Wednesday in Nur Sultan, getting there asap was the priority.

Best flight found, our day started with a 3am wakeup call and 45-minute drive to Istanbul airport for the 5:45am for a 3 ½ hour Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt. The complete opposite direction to Kazakhstan! After a 4-hour layover we boarded the 6-hour flight to Nur Sultan. Passing many of the countries we flew over on the way to Frankfurt we tried to stay awake so as to not be completely out of the sleeping time zone upon arrival. We are met after customs declaration by a young crew of English-speaking tournament staff who helped us with our visa applications. A 10-minute process turned into 80 minutes as 7 players had arrived on the same flight, only one process officer working, and we were last in line. A wait we didn’t really need at 11:30pm. $65 US dollars later our passports were processed, and we headed toward the hotel at last. 1am, 22 hours after waking in Istanbul, we were finally horizontal in our beds at the Ritz Carlton. Best hotel on tour hands down!

One of the hardest facets of being a tennis player is backing up week to week, especially after a win. Limited preparation on a new surface, jetlag, sleeping in a new bed, travel fatigue all makes the process of performing against the best in the world a very tough feat. But one thing you can rely on when winning, is confidence.

James comes in with renewed confidence and after a slow start in his first-round match against local star Mikael Kukushkin he wins pulling away in straight sets. A career best run beating 3 top 50 players in a row (something he had never achieved) and he had fought his way to a first ATP Tour final. Unfortunately, his 5th match in as many days was one too many. Losing a heartbreaker after having set points in the first ,76 63 to Korean Soon Woo Kwon. Superhuman effort to make the final considering he had now played 10 matches in 11 days.

Sofia 250 event in Bulgaria is our next stop. You guessed it, no direct flights from Nur Sultan to Sofia and for some reason every departing flight leaves extremely early. Zero sleep as we have a 2am pick up for a 4:55am flight back to Frankfurt 6 hours away. Sleeping on a flight is not my forte but with no sleep I was out like a light for the entire flight as was James. A feeling of déjà vu as we wait in Frankfurt airport for the second time in a week.

We arrive in Sofia after a short 90-minute trip from Frankfurt, show the obligatory negative PCR test, passport and arrive at the baggage carousel area. My bags are first off with James’s racket bag not far behind. Then to add insult to total fatigue, James’s suitcase is approaching on the carousel upside down with clothes hanging out the sides. As he picks it up off the carousel underpants, socks and clothes are strewn everywhere, he scrambles to regain control of his undies, thankfully clean, as I can’t help taking a happy snap for prosperity! Nothing like losing your undies to lighten the mood!

After reporting the broken baggage to the lost luggage office, we met the waiting official transport driver and arrived at the hotel 16 hours after leaving Nur Sultan.

Backing up for the 3rd tournament in a row after arriving late on a Monday is pushing the envelope. Less than 40 hours to shrug off disappointment and ever-increasing fatigue before embarking on the challenge of a new tournament. Finding an inner strength to compete with what you have on the day was the conundrum for James.

Miraculously, fighting mental demons and physical fatigue James went to places he had never been before and pulled off a great come from behind 3 set victory over up-and-coming Finnish player Emil Ruusouvori. He backed it up with a solid win in round 2 and came up against Italian young gun Jannik Sinner in the quater final. Leading in both sets, unfortunately James was unable to get over the line, 14 matches in 16 days had taken its toll.

The interrupted schedule 2021 has landed Indian Wells 1000 in early October rather than its usual March timeslot. That is our next travel day destination from Sofia. Sofia via London to Los Angeles is our itinerary. The 3-hour flight from Sofia to London leaves us 75 minutes to change terminals and connect with the direct British Airways flight into LA. We scraped onto the flight with 30 minutes to spare. The 11-hour overnight flight is eased by few people on the flight, so I am able lie flat over 4 seats. On arrival, after a broken night’s sleep, we are both weary and dreading the onward 2 ½ hour drive into the desert where Indian wells is located. Especially considering the 8-hour time change from London. Meaning, even though we have travelled overnight we had arrived at 9 pm LA time. To make matters worse 3 international flights had arrived just before our flight and we were caught up in a traffic jam at customs that would add an additional 90 minutes to our adventure. Brutal considering, we still had to drive another 120 miles to our destination. After some drama organising the right car at the Enterprise rental office we were on our way. Finally, on the road it was my job as navigator to keep an eye on James and stop us ending up in the gutter! Great driving and even better navigation by oneself, I think James woke me up a couple of times only, we arrived in ‘Tennis Paradise’ at 1:15am, nearly a day after leaving Sofia.

Arriving Sunday gave us 3 days before the tournament started. Some much needed time away from planes and tennis courts was in order. With the NFL season in full flight, James caught up with a couple of Aussie players to watch and study his NFL fantasy football players, an obsession and passion. I headed out for a day’s golf at the PGA west stadium course, one of many great courses in this golf mecca area – a much-needed relaxing day for both of us.

The conditions in October are very different to the March tournament time. And arriving from the last 2 weeks playing indoors made the adjustment to 33 degrees (90 Fahrenheit) significant. The accumulated matches, extreme amount of travel and missed night’s sleep have taken their toll on James. It’s a good problem to have, fatigue from winning so many matches, but the human body can only stand so much. Add the inability of Aussie players to go home due to covid quarantine restrictions, and the 2021 season has been a huge test like no other. James battled as well as he could against inform Mackenzie Macdonald but went down in straight sets.

Indian Wells was the last tournament of my trip and I was longing to get home after being away for nearly 2 months. I had booked my return flight hoping that the Australian flight restrictions would lift before I came home. I was horribly wrong. The only flight available when I booked my flight was the 18th of October, I had to grab that seat as there was no guarantee of any other flight being available if I hadn’t. James lost on October 9th, so I had 9 days to ‘kill’. James after 4 days’ rest, travelled to Moscow for the first of 3 indoor tournaments to finish the year. After daily calls to the travel agent, I resign myself to the fact that I will not be able to get an earlier flight. Golfed out, I decide to drive to the adult playground of Vegas. 3 days of casino funding was more than enough ‘fun’. I headed down the I15 freeway on a cruisy 4-hour trip to my LA airport hotel a night before my flight.

Flight day had finally arrived! After catching up with very close friends for lunch in Los Angeles I was driven back to Los Angeles airport for my 6:55pm Qatar flight. Arriving at 4:14pm, in plenty of time, I was so relieved to be heading home at last. Check-in seemed oddly quiet, only a handful of people checking in. The check-in supervisor asked me what flight I was on; I said, “6:55pm flight.”

The supervisor said, “this is the 4:55pm (16.55pm) flight and it is closed.”

Complete panic and devastation set in. I checked my ticket again and I had misread the 16:55 for 6.55pm. A first ever for me! The supervisor wasn’t going to let me check-in even though there were still a few people checking in for the same flight. He said you can re-book on the later flight but knowing I wouldn’t make my connecting flight in Doha to Australia, I was now desperate. Grovelling, I pleaded my case again, to a different supervisor. Luckily, she felt sorry enough to allow me to check-in. I sprinted through the baggage check being that guy who was late and jumping the queue, luckily finding my boarding gate close by, I slumped in my seat completely overwhelmed that I nearly missed the flight.

Reflecting on the last 10 week as I write this in my last 8 hours of 14 days hotel quarantine, my hope is Australia can soon open again to the world. The last 18 months restrictions and protocols can be eradicated. And the world can get back to living, connecting and travelling better than ever.

Editor’s Note:

Editor’s Note: Wayne Arturs is now happily out of a 2 week hotel quarantine and with his family and dogs.

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)