Victoria Azarenka cried when she heard the news.
The two-time Australian Open champion, who had traveled halfway around the world to Melbourne for the second time since 2016, looked forward to returning to the tournament and building on the momentum of her 2020 season of reaching the US Open final.
She had been there for about 24 hours and received another negative COVID-19 test result that morning when her agent told her that someone on her charter flight from Los Angeles tested positive on arrival. All passengers on the flight, including 23 players, would have to self-isolate in their hotel rooms for the next 14 days.
Next there was an urgent and chaotic meeting over Zoom, and when it was over Azarenka was sitting on the couch in her room and tears came. She was frustrated and upset, but mostly just sad. The 31-year-old spent most of the day in the same place, watching TV, meditating and writing down some of her frenzied thoughts.
“It took me a day because, and that was the hardest part, there is nothing you can do about it,” she recently told ESPN via a Zoom call on her eighth day of quarantine. “I think that’s where the emotions get really high and frustrating because even if you’re trying to do something, there really isn’t anything you can do about it. And honestly, I didn’t fight it. I gave myself a day to.” feel bad for me and be emotional.
“But after that I felt that it just didn’t make sense to continue down this path. I think having these feelings was normal, but it’s just about dealing with them and dealing with them and figuring out how to overcome those initial emotions and Luckily I had brought most of my gear with me, and the next day I got creative. When I put a couple of sofa cushions against the wall, I started to see what I can do and what I can do. “
After two more charter flights had the same problem, Azarenka is now one of 72 players currently on the log of the harsh quarantine and stuck exclusively in their rooms. Her colleagues are under the regular two-week quarantine for anyone traveling into the country and are allowed to train five hours a day on the tournament grounds.
It has forced tournament and local government officials to balance public safety with the needs of players now preparing for the first major of the year in a 355-square-foot space.
Tennis Australia did not publicly determine which players were affected by the new restrictions, likely due to the country’s tough privacy laws, but rather via email to those affected was leaked by a gamer via his social media account. Others shared the news themselves, filling their social feeds with videos and photos of how they turned their hotel rooms into makeshift courts and gyms. Most were equipped with stationary bicycles, and many have pushed their mattresses up to hit the wall or started hitting the wall directly, apparently to the delight of those in the adjoining rooms. Belinda Bencic, the world no. 12, which is currently isolated, has taped up her window like a net on the square.
Wrong surface, but that doesn’t matter to us pic.twitter.com/R8FsdyGafy
– Belinda Bencic (@BelindaBencic) January 17, 2021
Like Azarenka, Bencic is trying to make the best of the situation, but she too was upset at first and felt that all the hard work she did in the off-season was in vain.
“I’m trying to stay positive for my state of mind,” said Bencic on Friday from her hotel room. “Of course it was very bad in the first few days. I had the feeling that my chances of playing at the Australian Open and playing well are very slim right now and it’s hard to accept, especially when you see all the other players practice and improve and prepare for the Australian Open and we can’t.
“If we have 14 days of vacation, after vacation we feel like we’ve never played tennis before. So it’s a very long process to get the level back on track and we definitely need more time than we do. But then. ” On the other hand, of course, you see all the people who are not with their families [due to the borders being shut] and they don’t have the opportunity to come home. The least we can do is try to protect Australia from the virus. So we have a perspective, but of course we are frustrated with our own tennis. “
With three weeklong warm-up tournaments scheduled to begin almost immediately after their quarantine ends, Azarenka is concerned about the risk of injury and is trying to stay as ready to play as possible. Bencic, 23, says she received weights, resistance bands, and an exercise ball, among other things. She might also have a small advantage over some of her cohorts – her boyfriend is her fitness trainer so she can work out with him since they share a room.
Players we spoke to say the days are monotonous and blending into each other, but the quarantined players are informed daily via Zoom calls and frequent emails where they can ask questions or inquiries, such as about more exercise equipment. All players are tested daily in the hallway outside their rooms and only interact with medical staff. Paula Badosa is believed to be the only player to have returned a positive test after being suspended on one of the flights. She published the result on Twitter last week and has since been moved to a separate hotel for those with the virus.
Azarenka says she has remained remarkably busy. After making the difficult decision to leave her 4-year-old son Leo at home with a family in the United States so he can keep going to school, she has FaceTimes with him whenever possible and has work on An upcoming video and podcast completed series with the Tennis Channel.
“I kept structure,” she said. “I try to prioritize as much as possible. And I think it’s important to set priorities and also to keep them, not necessarily as strict a time, but the same kind of regime as before. I’m trying to clear it out and like training then to do. ” something else and just keeping me busy. “
Once the 14 day restrictions have expired, players can move into apartments of their choice and do whatever they want in their free time.
Even players who can leave their rooms five hours a day must adhere to strict protocols. After isolating themselves for their first four days in Melbourne and waiting for several test results, the players find out their daily schedule via an app the night before. Time on the premises is also carefully planned: 30 minutes to and from the site, two hours on the practice area, an hour and a half in the gym, an hour to eat. Everyone is assigned a teammate as a training partner and is expected to limit their interactions with others outside of their team. Seats and locations in the fitness and dining areas are assigned, and escorts guide them to their next destination.
“I tried to use all of the time to get out of the room in the fresh air because it goes pretty quickly and won’t lie,” said 2020 quarter-finalist Caty McNally from her hotel room on Saturday. “It was great to be on trial again, even if everything else is a little strange, but I think that’s how it works. I mean, at least we have a chance to be there, so I’m not really complaining too much.” “
McNally, 19, trained in her room for the first few days, but mostly on site. She spends time in her room completing her online college courses, playing her Nintendo Switch, which she bought and delivered on her first day in Melbourne, and re-watching “Grey’s Anatomy” on Netflix. She already made it through season 3.
Both the WTA and the ATP effectively ended their seasons after the cancellation of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California last March. As in most professional sports leagues in the world, nothing has been the same since then. There were months of uncertainty and questions about when and how the season would resume.
Wimbledon was canceled for the first time since World War II. The French Open have postponed their dates until the fall, and the US Open have tried hard to create a bubble atmosphere and move the previous Western & Southern Open from their home in Cincinnati to New York. The French and US openings, held with many restrictions and strict protocols, were largely successful.
Australian Open tournament officials were in touch with US Open organizers, including tournament director Stacey Allaster, to see what worked and what didn’t happen almost immediately after it closed. While the two slams share hard courts and summer mood, the containment of the virus in the two host countries was radically different. The United States counted more than 400,000 deaths and continues to hit daily record numbers with vaccination efforts in the early stages. Due to strict quarantine procedures to begin with, is Australia’s total number of deaths less than 1,000and there are only 31 active cases in Victoria as of Sunday.
But getting to this place with the virus was not without sacrifice. The hardest-hit Victoria, where Melbourne is located, has been locked down for months. Residents were forced to stay within five kilometers of their homes, close many shops and initiate a night curfew. International travel has been largely banned, and many of the state lines were closed during the pandemic, stranding some Australians and separating families. Some refugees seeking asylum have been locked up in hotel rooms that are likely smaller and far less luxurious than those of professional tennis players. for more than a year.
When some players, like Alize Cornet and Roberto Bautista Agut, started complaining about their conditions on social media, many in the country expressed how appalled they were at the players’ lack of awareness. Novak Djokovic, who is currently ahead of an exhibition event in Adelaide, forwarded a list of suggestions or “demands”, whichever you ask, to the Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley, including by the public, including the Australian Pros Nick, Kyrgios were criticized. All three players immediately apologized.
Azarenka consulted with several of her colleagues before issuing a statement of her own calling for sensitivity and compassion for all concerned. “We’re having a global pandemic, no one has a clear playbook on how to work at full capacity, and without a mistake we all saw it last year,” she wrote. “Sometimes things happen and we have to accept, adapt and keep moving!”
– Victoria Azarenka (@ vika7) January 19, 2021
“Australia has a pretty strong foothold in implementing these guidelines as it has actually been very successful in controlling COVID using these methods,” said Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a Georgetown University virologist. “And if it works, that’s what you have to do to go to your country because you don’t have to have an undetected COVID outbreak if you are able to, thanks to the people of Australia shopping at all of the restrictions and what they had to do, return to normal.
“Perhaps the level of the game is not as high as it has been in other years where people can prepare in a way that is ideal for them, but the Australian government is not wrong to insist on that [these policies]. And the benefit of such a strict quarantine is that once it’s over, you can go out, go to a bar, go to a restaurant, go to the theater, hang out on the beach, you can play a tennis tournament in front of fans, you can go to the Basically, lead a normal life, or at least what we all once considered normal. “
Despite some requests from players to postpone the Australian Open for a few days to give the isolated players extra practice time, Tiley has insisted that it start on the scheduled February 8th date. He has also refused to discuss the use of a best-of-three sets format for the men, which has been suggested because of the increased risk of injury to players after such an extended absence from the field.
However, the scheduled warm-up events have changed. An additional women’s tournament was added on Sunday specifically for isolated players who are expected to have their quarantine period until January 31st. All three WTA events now begin four days later and last from January 31 to February 31. 4, and the draw size of the original two tournaments will be reduced slightly. The ATP has postponed all three already planned events by 24 hours – the two traditional events start on February 1st and the ATP Cup, a team event, starts on February 2nd.
Before the changes were announced, Azarenka and Bencic weren’t sure whether they would play in either WTA event, regardless of the start, as they couldn’t predict how physically they would feel. For players like McNally there were still many questions to be answered. Unable to qualify for the Australian Open, she wasn’t sure she could qualify for either event and waited for clarification. However, she plans to play doubles with long-time partner Coco Gauff.
Most players agree how exciting it will be to have fans in the stands in large numbers for the first time in almost a year.
“Once that part is over it will be great and I’m really looking forward to challenging myself and going back to the practice area and training,” said Azarenka. “These hiccups won’t change my perspective, and it’s just another one [obstacle] skip. We take so much for granted, and I think the past year has shown everyone what matters – what health is, how important it is, and how many, many things are not as important as we think they are in a bigger one Related. “