19-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal has called upon the governing body of men’s tennis to lead by example when dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and warned against resuming the 2020 season too early in his strongest remarks yet.
All tennis tournaments have been either suspended or cancelled up until July 31st due to the worldwide health crises. Leaving officials pondering when and how the Tour will resume. Earlier this week it has been reported that players have been invited to a zoom call with the ATP next Wednesday where they are expected to put forward a schedule for the rest of the season. Although nothing has been made public yet.
One of the main sticking points is the US Open, where Nadal is the reigning champion. The United States Tennis Association has in recent weeks looked at numerous options ranging from holding it behind closed doors to even moving it to another location out of New York. A state which has recorded over 374,000 cases and 24,000 deaths related to the virus.
“It’s not an ideal situation. If you asked me today if I wanted to travel to New York and play I would say no,” Nadal told members of the International Tennis Writers Association on Thursday during a press conference on Zoom. “But in a couple of months I don’t know how the situation will improve. Hopefully it will be in the right way. I’m sure the people who organise the event, the USTA, want a safe event.’
“I am confident that they will make the right decision at the right moment. To be sure that if the tournament is going to be played, it will be under safe circumstances. If not, in my opinion, it doesn’t make sense. We need to be responsible.”
Should the Tour get going again, Nadal could face a tough six weeks of tennis with the French Open aiming to take place shortly after the New York major. Also the defending champion at Roland Garros, Nadal has a total of 4000 points to defend at those two events alone. French Open tournament director Guy Forget has recently told reporters that he is hoping to open it up to fans in some capacity as long as the government approves it.
“I admire the French federation for their positivity and that they want to move forward with their tournament. But today the situation is difficult to predict so we need to step back and see how it improves,” said Nadal.
“To come back when it will be safe to come back. For it to be safe and fair for everyone.”
It is also plausible the 34-year-old may opt to play one out of the two majors with him most likely favouring the clay-court grand slam that he has won a record 12 times. Asked directly what he would choose if he was in such a situation, he played down any speculation.
“I can’t predict much. I am just following the information. If a moment arrives where I have to decide, I will decide with my team about the things that are happening. If the moment arrives, we’re going to make decisions about what will be the best for my tennis, my future and my body.”
The Tour must respect all players
As pressure mounts for a decisive decision to be made regarding the remainder of the 2020 season, Nadal has issued his own stance on the matter. Saying that the Tour should be opened up to all players before it resumes. Tennis has the complexity of worldwide travel with players having to congregate in one place. To add to the difficulty, various countries has their own laws regarding how their people should quarantine prior and following travel.
Should this not happen, the world No.2 has openly voiced his opposition to holding tournaments. A potential thorn in the side of the ATP, who rely heavily on the support of the record-breaking Big Three contingent. Furthermore, he is also a key member of the influential Player Council, which is headed by world No.1 Novak Djokovic.
“If we are not able to organise a tournament that is not safe enough or fair enough where every player from every part of the world needs to have the chance to play the tournament we can’t play, that’s my feeling.” Nadal states.
“My feeling is that we need to wait a little bit more. We are in a worldwide sport. For me it is not the same as football or a tournament that can be played in one country. When you mix people from all over the world the complications are completely different. I am a little bit worried about that.”
“But I am positive. I hope to keep receiving positive news, but I don’t know when we will be playing again. Today is not worrying me much, what worries me is returning to normal life.”
However, should push come to shove and the king of clay was given the ultimatum that he can play whilst players from other countries were restricted to, he would do so. Although he would be far from happy if that scenario does happen.
“We need to be clear. We need to be responsible, we need to be sending strong messages and a positive example for society,” Nadal argues. “We are suffering from an unprecedented situation and my feeling is that we need to come back (to the Tour) when all players are able to travel and are safe to do so.”
“If not, I probably will still play, but my feeling would be that we (the ATP) are not being 100 percent correct. I want to see my sport being 100 percent fair and correct. Especially under the circumstances.”
When he does eventually return to competitive tennis, Nadal has played down any concerns over his current match fitness. His last match took place in February when he defeated Taylor Fritz to win his 85th ATP title in Mexico. Overall, he has won 13 out of 16 matches played so far in 2020.
“I think the last couple of years I have learned to play good tennis without the need to play a lot of matches. I think I can find a way to compete at the very highest level without being able to play a lot of matches before,” He commented on his future return.
“I have played a small amount of tournaments in the last couple of years. I think it is all about making the right preparations.’
“I’m confident that I have enough time to prepare myself and organize my calendar. I hope that I will be competitive again.”
Nadal has been spending his time away from the tour in Mallorca.
Tennis Umpire Bernardes Suffers Heart Attack In Melbourne Quarantine
The well-known official is said to be ‘doing well’ after suffering a major health scare.
Renowned tennis umpire Carlos Bernardes was rushed to hospital after suffering a heart attack inside his hotel room, according to various sources.
The Brazilian tennis official was staying in one of the hotels currently used for quarantine in Melbourne. A picture of Bernardes being taken to hospital in an ambulance has been posted on social media but there have been no official statement from local authorities on the situation. It is understood that he is ‘doing well’ following the medical emergency.
Australian media reported that Bernardes was in ‘hard quarantine’ which is the system used for those who have been classed as potential contact cases of people who test positive for COVID-19. At present there are 72 players in this kind of quarantine after a series of flights en route to Australia reported positive cases. Under government rules, they are not allowed to leave their room for 14 days. Others are allowed to leave their rooms for up to five hours each day.
According to Brazilian tennis official Ricardo Reis Bernardes experienced no complications and he is continuing to be medicated. Reis has issued details concerning Bernardes’ condition in a statement which has been published by Tenis Brasil.
“He had a heart attack in the morning. We are at the same hotel. When I saw the ambulance arrive, I even sent him a photo saying that someone was not well, and he said: ‘I was the one who called. I am in pain. In the chest and such,” he said.
“Luckily he called quickly and the service came too.’
“It was a heart attack, the veins was clogged. But he was medicated and he spent a few hours in the hospital taking medication. We spoke several times yesterday afternoon and evening [Wednesday, Australian time].
“”Now, in the morning [Thursday], I haven’t talked to him yet. But he was well and medicated. They were going to put on a stent, but he didn’t have to. They had the veins unblocked and etc. And he was fine. In the afternoon and at night he was fine, we talked in the afternoon and at night and everything was fine “
Bernardes is a veteran Tour official after having worked on the ATP Tour since 1990. He has taken charge of numerous high-profile men’s matches including two US Open finals in 2006 and 2008, as well as the 2011 Wimbledon final.
EXCLUSIVE: Inside The Melbourne Bubble – ‘Top Names Get Preferential Treatment But That’s Part Of The Tour’
Marcelo Demoliner celebrated his birthday in quarantine, his doubles partner isn’t allowed to leave his room for 14 days and he believes there is a difference in treatment between the top players and others. Yet, he refuses to complain about the situation he finds himself in.
Like his peers, Brazil’s Marcelo Demoliner passes his time in Melbourne quarantine by training, sleeping, eating and posting amusing videos on social media.
Demoliner, who currently has a doubles ranking of world No.44, is required by Australian law to abide by a strict isolation period before he is allowed to play any professional tournament. Although he is allowed to train unless he is deemed to be a close contact of somebody who has tested positive for COVID-19. An unfortunate situation 72 players find themselves in, including Demoliner’s doubles partner Santiago Gonzalez
During an email exchange with UbiTennis the Brazilian sheds light on what he labels as an ‘usual experience’ that has prompted criticism from some players. Roberto Bautista Agut was caught on camera describing conditions as a ‘prison’ in a video leaked to the press. Although he has since apologised for his comments. Demonliner himself is not as critical as others.
“It is an unusual experience that we will remember for a long time,” he told UbiTennis. “It is a very complicated situation that we are going through. Obviously, it is not ideal for us athletes to be able to go out for just 5 hours a day, but mainly for the other 72 players who cannot go out, like my partner Santiago Gonzalez. They have a complicated situation of possibly getting injured after not practicing for 14 days, but it is what it is.’
“We need to understand and adapt to this situation considering Australia did a great job containing Covid.”
With three ATP doubles titles to his name, Demoliner is playing at the Australian Open for the sixth year in a row. He has played on the Tour for over a decade and has been ranked as high as 34th in the world.
Besides the players complaining about food, their rooms and even questioning the transparency of the rule making, Tennis Australia also encountered a slight blip regarding the scheduling of practice.
“I was a little lucky because I stayed in one of the hotels that we don’t need to take transportation to go to the training courts. It made the logistics issue much easier. The other two hotels had problems with transportation and logistics in the first two days, but I have nothing to complain about, honestly.”
Demoliner remains thankful for what Tennis Australia has managed to do in order for the Australian Open to be played. Quarantine can have a big impact on a person mentally, as well as physically. Each day players spend at least 19 hours in their hotel rooms which was no fun for the Brazilian who celebrated his 32nd birthday on Tuesday.
“Without a doubt, it is something we have never been through before. I’m luckily having 5 hours of training daily. I am managing to maintain my physical preparation and rhythm. It is not the ideal, of course, but I can’t even imagine the situation of other players who are in the more restricted quarantine.”
Priority given to the top names
As Demoliner resides in Melbourne, a selected handful of players are spending their time in Adelaide. Under a deal struck by Tennis Australia, officials have agreed for the top three players on the ATP and WTA Tour’s to be based in the city. The idea being is that it will relieve the strain on Melbourne who is hosting in the region of 1200 arrivals.
Craig Tiley, who is the head of Tennis Australia, has insisted that all players will have to follow the same rules wherever they are based. Although some feel that those in Adelaide have some extra privileges such as a private gym they can use outside of the five-hour training bubble. Japan’s Taro Daniel told the Herald Sun: “People in Adelaide are being able to hit with four people on court, so there’s some resentment towards that as well.” Daniel’s view is one echoed also by Demoliner.
“I do believe they are receiving preferential treatment, quite different from us. But this is part of the tour,” he said.
“The top tennis players always had these extras, we are kinda of used to it. We came here knowing that they would have better conditions for practicing, structure, hotels… they also have merits to have achieved all that they have to be the best players in the world. I don’t know if it’s fair, but I believe the conditions could be more similar than they are in this situation.”
Some players were recently bemused by a photo of Naomi Osaka that surfaced on social media before being removed. The reigning US Open champion was pictured on a court with four members of her team, which is more people than what those in Melbourne are allowed to train with.
As the Adelaide contingent continues their preparations, those most unhappy with them are likely to be the 72 players who are in strict quarantine. Demoliner is concerned about the elevated risk of injury that could occur due to the facts they are not allowed to leave their rooms. All players in this situation have been issued with gym equipment to use.
“I think that they will be at a considerable disadvantage compared to who can train. But we need to obey the law of the country, there is not much to do … until the 29th they will have to stay in the room and that is it,” he said.
“Whether it is fair or not, it is not up to me to say because I am not in this situation. The thing about having the other players who didn’t have contact with the positive cases to also stay in the rooms is the concern about the risk of injury, specially for singles players. It will be a tough challenge, especially at the beginning of the season.”
In recent days, officials have been holding video calls with players to discuss ways to address these concerns ahead of the Australian Open. Which will start a week after they are allowed to leave their rooms.
When the tournaments do get underway there are also questions about how the public will react to players who have made headlines across the country for their criticism of the quarantine process. A somewhat sore point for Australian’s with some nationals unable to return home due to the government restrictions. On top of that, people in Melbourne are concerned about a potential outbreak of COVID-19.
“It is a very complex situation. I fully understand the reaction of the Australian population considering the recent events… the effect that the players are bringing, the risks to the population,” Demoliner said of the current circumstances.
“We know this and obviously they are concerned with the whole situation, which is still very uncertain. On our side, though, they did allow us to come here to play. It is important to remember that the decision to welcome us was approved by the Australian Government, otherwise we would not be here.”
Demoliner is one of three Brazilian doubles players ranked to have a top 100 ranking on the ATP Tour along with Bruno Soares and Marcelo Melo.
EXCLUSIVE: Inside The Melbourne Bubble – ‘Players Can’t Act Like Spoilt People’
UbiTennis speaks to a leading WTA coach about the current controversy surrounding the Melbourne tennis bubble which he is currently part of and if he believes players are right to express their frustration.
Less than a week into the mandatory 14-day quarantine process for players in Australia and there has already been plenty of drama.
Approximately 1200 players and their teams have travelled to Melbourne ahead of the Australian Open. Under government rules they are required to stay in their hotel rooms but are allowed to train up to five hours each day unless they have been in close contact with somebody who has tested Positive for COVID-19. Although things haven’t entirely gone to plan. There has been social media complaints about the food, insects in rooms and issues with practice sessions. Roberto Bautista Agut even went as far as describing the situation as a ‘prison’ in a personal video call that was published by an Israeli website without his permission.
The amount of negativity surrounding quarantine is substantial but is it really as bad as what it sounds?
Spanish coach Carlos Martinez is currently one of those living inside the bubble. With a wealth of experience in working with WTA players under his belt, he is currently mentoring former top 10 star Daria Kasatkina. Martinez has clarified some of the controversies surrounding the quarantine, including comments from players that they were misled about the rules upon arrival.
“They (Tennis Australia) made like, I don’t know how many, but hundreds of zoom’s (video conferences). They would inform us about everything, how it is going to be and the quarantine. We were getting messages and emails every single week,” Martinez told Ubitennis.net.
“Tennis Australia was doing a great job in my opinion. The only thing that was a bit unclear was about the quarantine when somebody gets infected on the plane. They were talking like they were going to make sections inside the plane so if they found somebody in a section (who tests positive) they would isolate those people,’
“But in the end the government didn’t want to do this and they preferred to isolate all on the plane because it was safer for everyone.”
So far Martinez has been fortunate not to have gone into strict isolation which at least 72 players have entered. Due to a series of flights having a passenger test positive for the virus, those on board must stay in their room throughout their quarantine. Those affected have been provided with exercise equipment of some sort.
“We know what we came for and how it is going to be. Of course, where you arrive everything seems more difficult than it is. But in my opinion they made a big effort and a super job to make the event. We can’t complain much.”
A frosty atmosphere with teething problems
Martinez has a lot of admiration for Tennis Australia’s management in order to enable the first Grand Slam of the season to go ahead but he himself has also experienced some minor setbacks in the bubble. Undergoing daily testing, the Spaniard said he was kept inside his room for three and a half days without proper clarity about what was happening. Eventually he was informed that an issue with the practice schedule resulted in his first session with Kasatkina being cancelled. Fortunately, those issues have been resolved and they have now resumed practice.
“We are keeping to our plan. We are four days in and it is nothing compared to the others in the hotel,” Martinez said of Kasatkina’s preparation.
“She’s feeling good, she’s feeling happy and I’m not feeling anything strange.’
“Daria hasn’t lost any shape. We are coming from Abu Dhabi in what was a good week for us. She lost in the third round but was playing quite well in my opinion.”
While the problems are starting to be resolved Martinez admits that there remains what he describes as a ‘strange and complicated’ atmosphere within the bubble. Frustration, anger and criticism from the public is a bit of a nightmare scenario for anybody preparing for a Grand Slam. On top of that, the two types of quarantine occurring is leading to concerns of an uneven playing ground.
“It is a strange atmosphere because there are 72 players in (stricter) quarantine. We can say that maybe it’s unfair because it’s true that we will not have the same opportunity. For example, we are practising for two hours a day plus fitness. They are in their rooms and can’t move. Of course it is not the same,” he commented.
“It is a bit complicated because I have found many people complaining and some of them talk about some things which are not right. That’s not nice at the moment.”
Amid the tension, the real question is how much of a disparity will there be between the players who are able to train on court during these two weeks and those who can’t? Some have called for the Australian Open to be delayed and for the men’s matches to be reduced from best-of-five to best-of-three sets. Two things which are unlikely to happen at present unless there is a mass rebellion.
Perhaps the media and players are reading too much into it? Martinez believes the impact will not be as significant as some are suggesting. Although he admits those 72 players are unlikely to be ready to play their tournament leading up to the Melbourne major.
“In my opinion, it’s not like they are going to lose all of their shape because most of them have equipment in their room and can make something. Of course it is not the same but I think in one week they can practice a lot and recover their shape,” he said.
“In the end, I think it will not be that bad. Of course it is not the same because they cannot compete in the first tournament and it is important to go into a grand slam with a few matches. But in the end it is going to be better than they think.”
The public is right to be unhappy
The series of player comments about their conditions in quarantine has prompted some backlash from the Australian public, highlighted best by The Sydney Morning Herald who published a series of letters criticising them. Meanwhile Novak Djokovic’s attempt at changing the quarantine rules by submitting his own letter outlining a series of suggestions were greeted with a flat out ‘No’ from the government. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters earlier this week ‘I think it’s just time people followed the rules, do their quarantine, play Tennis.’
As the public gets bemused by the situation, some are wondering how players will be received by fans during their tournaments in Melbourne Park?
“There are people living out of Australia who cannot come back and that’s why they (the public) can be a little bit unhappy with us,” said Martinez.
“I don’t think they will react badly because the public will be very happy to go to Melbourne Park to watch matches and see the top players in the world doing their job. There will not be any inconvenience for anyone.”
Like others within the tennis community, such as Victoria Azarenka, the Spaniard said it is vital that everyone look at the wider picture concerning the pandemic. On January 16th the worldwide death toll for COVID-19 surpassed 2 million people.
“In the end, we have to understand why players can not act like spoiled people. Complaining about the hotel, room and that when there are other people worse off in really tough moments. Many people are losing their jobs and in the end for us we can be very proud with what Tennis Australia is doing. Otherwise, we are home crying that we cannot play tennis.” He concluded.
The Australian Open is set to start on February 8th.
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