With its views of Adelaide‘s beautiful cricket ground, and tucked away in the city’s plush inner northern suburbs, the luxury Majestic Suites is a hotel fit for sporting superstars.
It is here that tennis’s elite players are billeted with their large entourages for the next fortnight ahead of the Australian Open, 450 miles from the chaos that has greeted the arrival of the rank-and-file in Melbourne.
Equipped with sunny balconies, from where a smiling Novak Djokovic greeted a loyal fan at the weekend, it is a stark reminder that tennis is a sport of haves and have nots.
Tennis stars have set up camp in the luxury Majestic Suites hotel ahead of the Australian Open
Back in Melbourne, 25 more lower ranked players were being told that they face a two-week hard lockdown at their various hotels after a new positive test emerged from a chartered plane that had landed from Doha.
That takes to 72, plus support staff, the total of those informed they will not be allowed out for the previously agreed five hours training per day, after positive tests were found among fellow travellers.
Feelings are running high among the large majority stationed in the Victorian capital, as they look enviously at the treatment the star names are getting in South Australia.
Three times Major winner Stan Wawrinka reacted contemptuously on social media to a letter that Djokovic has sent to the tournament asking for improved conditions and facilities for all players. The optics have not been great for the Serb, who is trying to establish a players’ union.
‘From Adelaide? Ahhahah,’ responded Wawrinka to French journalist Eric Saillot, who posted details of the missive sent by the world No 1.
The huge Melbourne cohort, even those on unaffected flights, had their first day’s scheduled practice further postponed amid the ongoing debacle.
Rattled tournament organisers, under pressure from all sides with this admittedly mammoth undertaking, were said to have offered players in Melbourne £175 worth of daily food delivery vouchers, also to cover their coaches, to try and shore up morale.
And so the divide between the chosen few and others in tennis is exposed again.
On this occasion it has been highlighted by the decision to divert the elite to Adelaide, where they enjoy extra privileges. Djokovic, the Williams sisters, Rafael Nadal, Naomi Osaka, Wimbledon champion Simona Halep and US Open winner Dominic Thiem are all there with inflated support groups.
Serena Williams is another player who has arrived at the hotel with her daughter and husband
Among those with Serena are husband Alexis Ohanian, daughter Olympia, mother Oracene and Venus, her designated hitting partner. Nadal has in tow his father and public relations manager along with others.
Off the court they have inter connecting rooms in luxury apartments that have kitchenettes and balconies. When it comes to practice they are allowed four people on court with them, as opposed to the player-plus-one permitted in Melbourne.
They were able to begin practice on Saturday, with Osaka inadvertently rubbing it in for the less fortunate by posting a picture from Adelaide’s state of the art courts.
At the weekend the non mask-wearing Djokovic waved from his people carrier while Williams was head down in her vehicle, under a peaked cap.
Among all cities in the world, Adelaide has been about the least touched by Covid. The atmosphere is relaxed and the athletes will exercise undisturbed.
Six portable gyms have been placed alongside the courts. Newly erected fences with meshing and patrolling security guards are on hand to deter fans and media.
The inequality situation has been caused by demands from the South Australia government that they should get some payback this year for their recent £30 million investment in the new courts.
In return for the special treatment they are getting, the top players will take part in a special exhibition arranged for when they emerge from their ‘quarantine’ on January 29. Then they will join up with everyone else in Melbourne.
Top players getting favours is nothing new and not restricted to the Australian Open, as pointed out by eminent Adelaide-based coach Roger Rasheed, who has worked with a string of top ten players.
Rafael Nadal is another one of the star’s that will be staying the luxury Majestic Suites
‘At Wimbledon, seeded players have the seeds’ dressing room and then there is the rest. Seeded players have a little more preferential treatment, but players in every sport have always had that,’ he said. ‘They are going to feel pretty normal here.’
A further hierarchy has developed in Melbourne, loosely based on what ranking a player has. Some are in better hotels than others, and some have had fitness equipment delivered to their rooms while others are having to improvise.
Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas posted footage of himself hitting a ball into a makeshift bounce back made from a mattress.
There are already uneasy echoes of what happened at the Australian Open a year ago. Those in the 2020 qualifying event protested furiously that they were forced to play matches amid the smoke haze that had blown in from rampant bushfires, insisting that the seeds would not have been asked.
Djokovic’s letter demanded that the tournament tried to cut down the full-on isolation of the 72 among other measures.
According to one player the postponement of practice on Sunday in Melbourne, much to their frustration, was due to nobody being available to deep clean the transport buses.
Wimbledon champion Simona Halep is among those that arrived at Adelaide Airport
US Open winner Dominic Thiem is another player that has an inflated support group
The wider context is that of ordinary Australians being perplexed at so many tennis personnel being allowed to fly in, at a time when many fellow citizens are still stranded abroad waiting for repatriation.
There are even blocks on people travelling from one State to another, causing anger among some of the fearful local population.
Victoria MP Tim Smith took to social media to attack Wawrinka after the Swiss posted an innocent enough picture of himself sitting alone in his hotel room.
‘For every Victorian currently in Sydney that is banned from returning home by Daniel Andrews (Victorian Premier), this obscene double standard, where this flog of a tennis player is allowed in, and our own people aren’t, must make so many Victorian families incandescent,’ he said.
Even in good times Australia has a national obsession with adhering to rules and regulations that would surprise many visitors. It is one reason why they have been largely successful so far in limiting the spread of the virus.
Emma Cassar – head of the niftily-titled Corrections Victoria local justice department – has warned quarantined players there not to even open their hotel room doors, after reports of them trying to talk down corridors to each other.
Tennis Australia always had an unenviable task in trying to get their flagship event on, and now its reputation as the ‘Happy Slam’ is being sorely tested.