April 23, 2021

MIKE DICKSON: The Australian Open is looking like one hell of a gamble

3 min read

The road to hell is paved with good intentions – something those trying to put on this year’s Australian Open may already be reflecting upon.

The aim of keeping the global tour going was a noble one, but the danger of a brutal collision with reality was always acute.

Trying to bring well over 1,000 athletes, coaches and officials from all over the world into a country jealously guarding its largely Covid-free status – what could possibly go wrong? 

Bernard Tomic's girlfriend Vanessa Sierra has slammed hotel quarantine living conditions

Bernard Tomic’s girlfriend Vanessa Sierra has slammed hotel quarantine living conditions

Tennis Australia and the Victorian health authorities has looked an uneasy alliance. A few days after the great influx all concerned are deep into damage limitation territory.

A window into what is going on has been provided through the modern means of social media posts.

So far many of these have been cheerful enough, with players showing how they have been setting up makeshift training facilities in their rooms. Bernard Tomic’s model girlfriend and quarantine companion, Vanessa Sierra, has convulsed the internet with the confession that she is not used to washing her own hair.

Yet there are two very serious issues facing the Australian Open in the next two weeks. The first, and more obvious, is guarding against the positive tests uncovered so far turning the whole event into some sort of major spreader. 

Sierra, a former contestant on Love Island, has complained about the lack of hair salon access

Sierra, a former contestant on Love Island, has complained about the lack of hair salon access

The second is ensuring the wellbeing of the large number of participants who, without preparation, are now beginning two weeks’ complete isolation in a hotel room.

Will they still be posting semi-jokey videos a week from now, or will there be tales of desperation? Watching friends and rivals having five hours of practice and freedom per day will not help.

It is worth remembering that when Australian player John Millman, one of the tour’s more worldly characters, returned home in November he admitted finding the full two-week quarantine among the toughest experiences of his life.

There is little point now in extending the current blame game about exactly who was told what. Whether warnings about the harsh consequences of just one passenger testing positive for the rest of the plane were explicit enough.

Tennis players can be hard to coerce and communicate with but, contrary to some perceptions, most are not spoilt brats. The majority are behaving sensibly, but they are young and a long way from home, and some will be anxious and vulnerable. They need proper support.  

Novak Djokovic was slapped down for demanding that players receive special treatment

Novak Djokovic was slapped down for demanding that players receive special treatment

What does appear the case is that Tennis Australia was over ambitious in its original plans to stage events around its vast nation, as is usual. It was only on November 15 that the plan was switched to host everything in Melbourne. That was late to change tack for such a huge logistical undertaking.

The past 25 years the same ambition has seen the Australian Open go from being the poor relation of the Grand Slams to the envy of the sport. It is an annual blockbuster which assiduously courts the top players – witness the elite few being cosseted in Adelaide – and they queue up to praise it each year.

Now it faces its biggest crisis of modern times. Everything will be done to try and ensure the next 10 days are negotiated without further drama, before all its participants are released into the sunshine, and a deeply sceptical local community.

The Aussies are known for their love of a punt. Right now the Australian Open is looking one hell of a gamble. 

Aryna Sabalenka practices against the hotel window during quarantine in Melbourne

Aryna Sabalenka practices against the hotel window during quarantine in Melbourne

Tennys Sandgren was keen to show he was fighting fit by weightlifting an exercise bike

Tennys Sandgren was keen to show he was fighting fit by weightlifting an exercise bike

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