Melbourne – Three new coronavirus cases hit the Australian Open’s troubled build-up on Tuesday as a backlash grew against international tennis players flown in during a raging pandemic.
Two of the new cases were players, state health officials said, taking the total infections to seven since more than 1,000 people arrived in largely coronavirus-free Australia on charter flights last week.
The Victoria state health department said the two players and a third person associated with the tournament — a woman in her 20s, and two men in their 30s — had returned positive results.
The year’s first Grand Slam, delayed three weeks, has proved an enormous undertaking and is provoking disquiet among Australians, especially in host city Melbourne which emerged from a four-month lockdown in October.
All players and staff are currently undergoing 14 days of quarantine in hotels. Cases also came to light on three of the flights.
Earlier, Nick Kyrgios called world No. 1 Novak Djokovic a “tool” as player complaints about quarantine were slammed by Australia’s public and media.
Kyrgios led the criticism after Djokovic reportedly issued a list of demands for players undergoing quarantine.
“Djokovic is a tool,” Kyrgios tweeted.
World No. 13 Roberto Bautista Agut also told a TV station that quarantine was like prison “with wifi”, calling the arrangements a “complete disaster.”
However, tournament organizers insisted most players accepted their isolation without complaint.
At least 72 players have been barred from leaving their rooms for two weeks after coronavirus cases were detected on their charter flights into the country.
The others are allowed out for up to five hours a day to train under strictly controlled conditions. The Australian Open starts in Melbourne on Feb. 8.
Djokovic, 33, the reigning Australian Open champion, is among a select group of stars — including Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Rafael Nadal — allowed to fly into Adelaide and enjoy better facilities such as hotel rooms with balconies, unlike the majority quarantining in Melbourne.
The 17-time Grand Slam champion sent a letter to Tennis Australia that reportedly called for players to be moved into private homes with tennis courts and get better meals, among other demands.
Australian media portrayed the request as petulant and selfish, while showing images of Djokovic not wearing a mask in a players’ minibus, which would be required in most taxis and ride-shares in Australia.
However, Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley defended Djokovic, saying his letter merely contained “suggestions and ideas,” not demands.
Tiley said Australia’s strict quarantine rules were initially a “shock” to some players but most had told him during a conference call that they accepted the restrictions and wanted to apologize for the comments of a disgruntled few.
“The majority of the players have been absolutely fantastic and this is a playing group that’s a little bit upset with what some others have said because it holds them in a bad light in the community,” Tiley told reporters.
He also ruled out cutting the maximum duration of men’s matches from five sets to three to help players whose preparation had been compromised by quarantine lockdown.
“We haven’t entertained those comments or that position,” he said.
Meanwhile Kyrgios also took aim at fellow Australian player Bernard Tomic’s girlfriend, Vanessa Sierra, after she complained in an online video about cold food and having to wash her own hair in quarantine.
“I don’t mind Bernie but his Mrs. obviously has no perspective, ridiculous scenes,” Kyrgios tweeted.
Djokovic’s actions around the tournament are being closely watched, in part due to his seeming nonchalance about the virus in the past.
Last year, he organized a series of exhibition events in the Balkans at which social distancing was minimal.
He and several other players later tested positive for the virus, as did his wife Jelena.
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