The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the sporting world has been hugely significant, and it now almost feels like the norm for there to be many different protocols and testing procedures during major sporting events. Tennis has been affected just the same as every other sport, with the pandemic wreaking havoc on the 2020 calendar, notably leading to the cancellation of Wimbledon.
Now that 2021 has arrived, it is hoped that the sport will be able to boast a full complement of Grand Slams this year, and it all gets underway on February 8th with the Australian Open, which has already been delayed slightly – proof that the pandemic is still forcing the hand of tournament organisers.
Indeed, the reason for this slight delay is due to the fact that the players must complete a quarantine period on entry to Australia, staying in hotels for a certain length of time before they can get their tournament underway. Australia has taken an extremely strict stance on containing the virus, and the Melbourne Slam is granted no exemption from the guidelines imposed on people arriving into the country from other places.
Most players have taken the quarantine period with grace, and videos have been seen on social media of players hitting tennis balls off hotel room walls and doing shuttle runs in a bid to maximise their fitness in these strange circumstances.
But for some, the logistics of the quarantine period have clearly rankled. One of these is World No. 1 and defending Aussie Open champion Novak Djokovic. The Serb made headlines recently by sending a list of demands to tournament organisers, complaining of different aspects of the quarantine period, and requesting certain liberties in the name of preparing properly for the tournament.
These included more fitness apparatus in hotel rooms, more freedom to spend time with coaches of negative test results had been recorded, better food, and that players be allowed to move to private houses with tennis courts, among other things.
The requests were swiftly shot down by organising bodies, and it’s clear that Djokovic isn’t going to get his way. But it raises the question of how much is this quarantine period going to affect the outcome of the Australian Open? There’s no doubt that some players will suffer greatly being made to endure a period of relative isolation, and this could well affect their performances come the beginning of the tournament.
For Djokovic especially, it’s clear that he’s frustrated with the way things have been carried out logistically, although many pointed out that all players were made well aware of what the quarantine period would entail ahead of time. The Serb will need to ensure he has a clear head going into the tournament, and that he doesn’t let his frustrations get the better of him. He is currently the favourite in the tennis betting odds, but that could change if he’s not in the right frame of mind at the start of the competition.
It will be interesting to see whether there are shocks in the early rounds of the Australian Open as a result of players’ preparations being so hampered. But, in the end, it would be no surprise to see the same old favourites battling it out in the latter stages of the tournament.