Melbourne – The world’s top tennis stars are set to emerge from a grueling two weeks stuck inside their hotel rooms as they race to get match fit before their coronavirus-disrupted season resumes in Australia.
The players arrived in Melbourne and Adelaide earlier this month, in preparation for the delayed Australian Open, and were whisked into 14 days of mandatory quarantine.
The original plan was to allow them outside for up to five hours each day in order to practice, a privilege many have enjoyed. Eight positive COVID-19 cases, however, threw those plans into disarray.
Seventy-two players have been confined to their rooms in Melbourne for 24 hours each day, forced to hit balls against mattresses and exercise as best they can, sparking complaints about the tough conditions.
But the ordeal is ending, with players set to be let out depending on when their flights touched down.
Six ATP and WTA tournaments await them beginning on Sunday, all at Melbourne Park and squeezed into a week to make up for lost time in the lead-up to the season-opening Grand Slam on Feb. 8.
Spanish great Rafael Nadal, who is gunning to win a 21st Grand Slam title, which would move him past the injured Roger Federer, said he felt “privileged” to play at all given the devastation the pandemic has caused around the world.
“It’s a different situation than usual, it’s much more sad for everyone,” he told CNN this week.
“But at least we’re here, we’re going to have a chance to play here. The world is suffering in general, so we can’t complain.I feel that we are privileged people today, having the chance to keep doing our jobs.”
Serena Williams, who is still searching for one more Slam title to equal Margaret Court’s record of 24, echoed those sentiments, calling the bio-security rules “super, super strict”, but adding: “They’re doing it right.”
While most players flew into Melbourne, Nadal, Williams and other superstars, including Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka, arrived in Adelaide, where they will play an exhibition on Friday.
They have enjoyed the five-hour daily blocks of training while reportedly staying in bigger and better rooms, leading to mutterings about preferential treatment.
Nadal will start his season there with a two-set clash against world No. 3 Dominic Thiem, while world No. 1 Djokovic gets under way against young Italian Jannik Sinner.
Williams faces Osaka while top-ranked Ashleigh Barty takes on world No. 2 Simona Halep.
They’ll then head to Melbourne with Djokovic, Nadal, and Thiem playing in the ATP Cup from Tuesday, an event slimmed down to 12 teams from the usual 24.
Barty, Williams, Halep and Osaka will headline the WTA Gippsland Trophy and Yarra Valley Classic, starting Sunday.
A third event, the Grampians Trophy, begins Wednesday for players in hard lockdown who have not been able to train at all, including Victoria Azarenka and Angelique Kerber, both former Australian Open winners.
Barty has been sidelined for almost a year after opting out of traveling due to the pandemic, but said she expected to get in gear quickly.
“The last two or three weeks have been a kind of a little bit impatient, kind of itching, getting ready to play,” she said.
“But it’s been a long preseason … and certainly ready to go now.
“I can’t wait to be out there and as players we have to be extremely grateful and appreciative of the opportunity we get to play,” she added.
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