On the last day of August the prestigious US Open will get underway in what will be a very different look compared to what has ever been seen before.
The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc across the world in tennis and the New York major is no exception. This year’s tournament will be held behind closed doors amid the potential risk of an outbreak if fans attended. To put this into perspective 732,663 people visited Flushing Meadows in 2019. Players are being kept in their very own bubble and will be subjected to regular testing. Even those who wish to rent private housing have to pay for 24-hour security to monitor their movement under an agreement with the tournament.
Unsurprisingly some have opted to skip the event all together despite the valiant efforts of the United States Tennis Association, who run the Grand Slam. The women’s tournament has been the hardest hit so far with a total of nine top 40 players pulling out. Among the absentees are potential title contenders Ash Barty, Kiki Bertens and Elina Svitoliva. All of whom are currently ranked inside the top 10.
“I understand and respect all the efforts they are putting to make it happen in a safe environment, but I still don’t feel comfortable to travel to the US without putting my team and myself at high risk,” world No.5 Svitolina recently said on Twitter.
There will still be an array of top names playing in New York with most eyes fixated on Serena Williams and if she will finally be able to match Margaret Court’s all-time record for most Grand Slam titles. Then there is the potential for the lower ranked or younger players to burst through the draw and capitalize on the absence of a series of top names.
Nevertheless, many of those travelling to America still have their own anxieties about what to expect at a major event being held under extraordinary circumstances. Victoria Azarenka will be playing in the main draw for the 13th time in her career. It was at the tournament where she claimed her first Grand Slam win back in 2006 and she is also a two-time finalist. The former world No.1 admits the various rules in place had made her doubt her decision to play this year.
“To be honest before coming here when we had all the calls with all the rules and the restrictions coming in it made me a little bit discouraged coming because it felt a little bit more. It’s good for your protection but at the same time, it felt a little bit like I’m not sure if I actually want to go. It will be tough to adjust.” Azarenka told reporters following her first round loss at the Top Seed Open on Tuesday.
The limitation of a player’s movement in New York will also be a challenge for some. Due to the pandemic, New York will also host the Western and Southern Open the week prior. Meaning some player’s will be kept inside the so-called bubble for three to four weeks.
Ons Jabeur is hoping for another fairytale run in a major following her Australian Open breakthrough. In Melbourne she reached the quarter-final in what was an historic first for an Arab female tennis player. Speaking to journalist Reem Abulleil, the world No.39 fears the restriction in her movement during the tournament could have a negative effect on her performance.
“I’m trying to figure out some stuff, trying to find a solution with my team to feel more free and more happy to go play [Cincy/US Open]. My game is about freedom and I don’t know how I can play if I’m stuck in a hotel room all the time,” she said.
“Of course I respect all the rules, social-distancing and disinfecting everything, but I feel like I’m more like that person if I get stuck somewhere, I wouldn’t be 100 per cent able to play.”
Johanna Konta echoes many of her rivals when she says the absence of the animated New York crowd will be a blow. Although for the Brit she is looking at the positive side of things during what is a unique time in history. Konta returned to competitive tennis this week but lost in the first round of the Lexington Open.
“I am not gonna lie, I love playing in front of a crowd. That is a massive part of what I love about the sport. So I’m 100% not going to be enjoying that gone. I will miss it. But on the flip side at least I get the opportunity to play that means more to me to get the opportunity to play whether there are crowds or not.” she said.
“To me what is the weirdest is the fact that we are going to play a tournament at Flushing Meadows which is not the US Open. I think that is going to be very bizarre,” Konta added.
Others find a silver lining to the new measures that will be in place. Karolina Pliskova could be the top seed this year if Simona Halep decides not to play in the event. The Romanian is set to make an announcement by the start of next week. For the Cezch the prospect of having to isolate in her room for hours is one that doesn’t faze her.
“I’ve decided I want to play and this shouldn’t be a problem,” Pliskova told the Czech News Agency. “I’m pretty tired. So I’m looking forward to closing my door… and being alone in my room for 24 hours.”
The US Open will start on August 31st.
List of women’s singles player withdrawals (as of 10/8/20)
1 Ash Barty AUS
5 Elina Svitolina UKR
7 Kiki Bertens NED
29 Qiang Wang CHN
30 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova RUS
31 Barbora Strycova CZE
32 Svetlana Kuznetsova RUS
34 Saisai Zheng CHN
38 Julia Goerges GER
74 Lin Zhu CHN
85 Anastasia Potapova RUS
92 Ana Bogdan ROM
97 Sam Stosur AUS
103 Shuai Peng CHN
108 Xiyu Wang CHN
118 Barbora Krejcikova CZE
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.
Quarantine Drama: Players And Support Staff Warned For ‘Challenging Behaviour’ Amid Argument Over Rules
Officials and players are at a disagreement over the rules concerning who is deemed a ‘close contact’ of somebody who test positive for COVID-19.
The Commissioner for COVID-19 Quarantine in Victoria says she will tolerate no rule breaking by those staying in quarantine ahead of the Australian Open after a fourth confirmed test emerged on Sunday.
Emma Cassar said that there have been incidents of ‘challenging behaviour’ from both players and members of their teams in relation to the rules set out. Due to the pandemic, everybody has to go into a 14-day quarantine but the process has turned more complicated following a series of positive tests by those travelling on plans funded by Tennis Australia. The latest case involves a member of the broadcast team flying from Los Angeles.
The Australian government has ruled that everybody on board a plane where somebody has tested positive for the virus must go into a stricter form of quarantine where they must remain in their room and are not allowed to train outside. This has affected more than 40 players on two different flights from Abu Dhabi and another from Los Angeles. As it currently stands 62 people have been deemed close contacts of the four cases, three of which were announced on Saturday, according to Fox Australia.
To add to the drama, Cassar has confirmed that some players and their team members have already been given a warning for what she says is ‘challenging behaviour.’ Branding their actions as ‘dangerous acts that we can’t tolerate.’
“I can give you two examples – a player who opened his door to try and have a conversation with his training mate down the hallway. Again, he’s got a phone, you can pick up the phone and use the telephone as opposed to putting you and others at risk,” she said.
“The other was another gentleman who shouted some UberEats to some other people on the floor and was praising his great efforts and opened his door to do so.
“It is very low level, but they are dangerous acts that we cannot tolerate … they have been formerly warned, and Victoria Police will continue to follow up those who haven’t been spoken to yet.”
Even more extraordinary is the confirmation that extra police have been sent to the hotels where players are quarantined. Repeat offenders have been warned they could be fined or even transferred to a ‘complexed care hotel’ where a police officer stays outside their door.
Did the players know?
In regards to the quarantine process, some have questioned the transparency of the rules which has been set out. Critics have argued that they were never informed that should someone test positive on a plane everybody on board would have to isolate for 14 days.
World No.12 Belinda Bencic has gone as far as saying that the rules have been changed upon arrival in Melbourne. A view that has also been expressed by Alize Cornet, Yulia Putintseva and Sorana Cirstea.
“We made our decision to come here from rules that were sent to us. Then we arrived and received an information/rule book with more/new rules that we did not know about,” Bencic wrote on Twitter.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley has addressed those statements by saying that all players were informed that this would be a possible scenario that they would face. Leading up to the quarantine, all players and their teams should have been sent documents detailing their stay.
“The determination of who was and who wasn’t a close contact was going to be entirely up to the health department, and they’re doing what is necessary in order to keep our community safe,” he told Channel 9 TV.
“Obviously what has changed over the last several weeks is the new UK strain, which is more infectious, and there’s obviously a great desire by all of us to make sure that doesn’t come into our community.
Although the motion that the rules have changed in some capacity is disputed by Commissioner Cessar who stated that no adjustments to the policy will be made in the coming days.
“The rules of close contacts haven’t changed, and there’s no other way you can consider this. If you’re on a plane for 16 to 24 hours in air that circulates throughout the plane, you are a close contact,” she said.
“The program is set up to keep people safe. We will not be modifying the program or watering it down under any circumstances.”
Whilst there are ongoing discussions concerning the scheduling of tournaments taking place during the first week of February, Tiley has confirmed that the Australian Open start date of February 8th will remain unchanged.
24 Players In Isolation After Positive COVID-19 Tests On Australian Open Charter Flight
It is understood that Kei Nishikori and Victoria Azarenka are among those to be affected by the latest development.
Tennis Australia has been dealt a new blow to their preparations for the Melbourne Grand Slam after it was confirmed two people tested positive for COVID-19 on one of their flights.
A member of the flight crew and one passenger who was on Flight QR793 from Los Angeles Airport have tested positive for the virus. It has been reported by journalist Pablo Amalfitano that the coach of Lauren Davis, Edward Elliot, is the passenger who has tested positive. Although he reportedly claims that the result is a false positive.
A total of 79 people were on the flight with 24 of those being players such as Kei Nishikori, Victoria Azarenka, Sloane Stephens, Alison Riske, Vaskek Pospisil and Tennys Sandgren. Sandgren did test positive prior to the fight but was given the all clear to travel after it was deemed that he was ‘viral shedding.’
Due to their possible exposure to COVID-19 Australian health officials have instructed all players to isolate for 14 days and they will not be allowed to leave their room to train in what will be a big setback to their preparations.
“The Chief Health Officer has reviewed the flight and has determined that everyone on board needs to isolate and will be confined to their rooms for the 14-day quarantine,” a leaked email sent to players read. “We know this is not how you imagined your preparations for the AO would start but our entire team is here to support you and do everything that we can to get you through this.”
News of the positive tests was first reported online by the players themselves after they uploaded a leaked email detailing what had happened before Tennis Australia had a chance to publish a statement.
“We are communicating with everyone on this flight, and particularly the playing group whose conditions have now changed, to ensure their needs are being catered to as much as possible, and that they are fully appraised of the situation,” Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley commented.
“Our thoughts are with the two people who tested positive on the flight and we wish them well for their recovery.”
Doubles specialist Artem Sitak, who was on board the plane, commented on the situation by giving an update to his followers on Instagram. The Russian-born New Zealand player is currently ranked 78th in the world and has won five ATP titles so far in his career.
“We’re all deemed close contact. I asked for a bike, so hopefully I’ll get one and stay in shape,” Sitak said. “We’ll probably be out on the 29th of January and head straight into the ATP 250 a few days after.
“Obviously not great, but that’s the risk we were all taking. They kind of warned us this was going to be at the discretion of the Australian government, Australian health authorities if something like this happened. It’s just unlucky that two of them contracted the virus.”
In a later update the 34-year-old confirmed that he has had a bike delivered to his room. |
Meanwhile, Japanese media have confirmed that all of Nishikori’s team has tested negative for the virus but the former US Open finalist will be training alone in his room.
The first series of tournaments are set to take place in Melbourne a week before the Australian Open on January 31st.
List of affected players
- Victoria Azarenka
- Sloane Stephens
- Kei Nishikori
- Tennys Sandgren
- Nicholas Monroe
- Santiago Gonzalez
- Artem Sitak
- Guido Pella
- Alison Riske
- Marcos Giron
- Vasek Pospisil
Note – list is incomplete and compiled via news agencies
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