'Can't go ahead': Australian Open rocked by major virus drama

Sam Goodwin
·Sports Editor
·3-min read
Denis Kudla, pictured here in action during 2020 Australian Open Qualifying.
Denis Kudla in action against Bernard Tomic during 2020 Australian Open Qualifying. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

A leading expert has renewed calls to scrap the Australian Open, with qualifying for the tennis grand slam tournament hit by coronavirus.

Denis Kudla and Francisco Cerundolo have both been rushed into quarantine at the Australian Open qualifying event in Doha after testing positive for COVID-19.

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Fourth-seeded Kudla downed Moroccan Elliot Benchetrit 6-4 6-3 on Monday, but the match ended in major controversy.

The positive COVID-19 test result reportedly came through with Kudla leading 5-3 in the second set, and according to Benchetrit they had to finish the game in progress.

Because World No.114 Kudla won that game, which wrapped up the match, he was declared the winner.

If Benchetrit had won the game to extend the match, it would have been declared a walkover in his favour.

“At 5-3, they got the result. So to sum up: if I'd won that game at 5-3 to make it 5-4, I'd have qualified for the second round,” Benchetrit said on Instagram.

In another blow, Benchetrit may also have to isolate in Doha if he is deemed a close contact.

Cerundolo was due to face Spain’s Mario Vilella Martinez but received his positive result before taking to the court.

The Argentine later tweeted he was in “good health”.

The positive test result for Kudla means teenage Queenslander Dane Sweeny, who was to face the American in his second match, advanced straight to the final round of qualifying - which is being held offshore for the first time.

Tennis Australia confirmed the positive tests in a statement.

“Two players have returned a positive COVID-19 test at AO men's qualifying in Doha, Qatar. Both players have been withdrawn from the tournament and transferred to a quarantine hotel,” it said.

“Local health authorities, the tournament physician and medical team are monitoring each individual. Contact tracing is currently underway to notify close contacts.”

Rod Laver Arena, pictured here during the 2020 Australian Open.
A general view of Rod Laver Arena during the 2020 Australian Open. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Benchetrit told the Tennis Majors website that players are bizarrely permitted to play before getting their test results, which have taken longer than expected.

“The concept of a test is to have the information up front, to not put the linespeople, the opponent or - quite simply - everyone the person might meet before or after their match in danger,” he said.

“There also are lucky losers who are waiting for a forfeit to be able to play, who travelled there for nothing.

“The draw is compromised; there will be a player in the third round of qualifications having played just one match.

“That's also the problem.”

Renewed calls to scrap Australian Open

Benchetrit believes Kudla must have contracted the coronavirus in Doha, given this would have been his third test since arriving in Qatar.

Meanwhile, University of NSW adjunct professor and infectious diseases expert Bill Bowtel has called for the Australian Open to be cancelled or delayed even further.

“They shouldn’t allow people in for the Australian Open, that should go to history like the Grand Prix did,” Bowtell told the Australian.

“I really think they have to explain now why they’re not stopping flights from the UK and having - as in Hong Kong - three week quarantines.”

Players and support staff will start arriving in Melbourne this week for the February 8 event.

They will be forced into mandatory two-week quarantines, but are allowed out to train for up to five hours every day.

“We’ve just got to get ahead of it – either we control the virus or it controls us,” Professor Bowtell said.

“We cannot go ahead with the Australian Open, and we can’t go ahead with the Fourth Test.”

with AAP

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