Nick Kyrgios goes head-to-head with Dominic Thiem on his favourite John Cain Arena on Friday night, with the blockbuster Australian Open showdown throwing up plenty of questions before it's even begun.
The Australian Open was plunged into turmoil on Friday when Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced that fans would be banned from attending the grand slam for five days, from Friday midnight.
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A COVID-19 outbreak connected to the Holiday Inn at Melbourne Airport has grown to 13 cases, forcing Andrews to put the city back into a five-day lockdown.
That means fans will be locked out of Melbourne Park, where the Australian Open is being held, from Saturday until Wednesday.
Spectators will still be allowed to attend matches on Friday, including Kyrgios' third round showdown with World No.3 Thiem.
“Venues hosting professional sporting competitions can open, with essential staff attending to ensure the safe running of the event,” Mr Andrews said.
“(Sporting events) will function essentially as a workplace. But they will not function as an entertainment event.
“These rules come into effect at 11.59. Not just from ‘that’ event but for all the rules that I’ve mentioned.
“But I would be encouraging people … just to use common sense and as much discretion, erring on the side of ‘let’s do everything we can to make this five days – and no longer than that’. So if you don’t have to go out tonight, then don’t.
“AFLW or ‘that event’ or any number of other large and small professional sport events, they will function essentially as a workplace. They will not function as an entertainment event because there will be no crowds – and the workforce will be the minimum that is needed in order for that to be COVID safe and safe in lots of other contexts.”
Kyrgios' match with Thiem is scheduled to get underway at 7pm on John Cain Arena and it could represent the last time either man plays in front of a crowd at this year's Australian Open.
However, fans were understandably left baffled about what impact Victoria's lockdown rules will have on it, if the match stretches into the early hours of Saturday morning.
Genuine question...what happens if Kyrgios v Thiem goes past midnight? Do they tell crowd to move on at 11.59? #AusOpen
— Andrew McCormack (@_AMcCormack7) February 12, 2021
What happens if Kyrgios vs Thiem is deep into a fifth set at 11:59pm and fans are in the stadium? Or are they not allowed to the night session tonight?
— Guy Heveldt (@GuyHeveldt) February 12, 2021
— Basil Zoccali (@BasilZoccali) February 12, 2021
New virus strain poses serious challenge
Players, officials and support staff will be subject to the same stage four restrictions as the rest of the state.
Mr Andrews said the UK strain of the virus is "so hyper-infectious and moves so fast that it is presenting a very real challenge" for authorities.
"It is the advice to me that we must assume that there are further cases in the community than we have positive results for, and that it is moving at a velocity that has not been seen anywhere in our country over the course of these last 12 months," he said.
Speaking earlier on Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison noted hotel quarantine workers have also contracted the virus in Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth and Sydney, sparking short lockdowns in those cities.
"We have dealt with these before, got on top of them before," Mr Morrison told reporters.
"A proportionate response that enables the (contact) tracers and others, to be able to get on top of it and get the same successful result we have seen in other states - that can and will be achieved here."
The Prime Minister said he understood Melburnians did not want to endure another long lockdown.
"As other states have demonstrated, you can get on top of this pretty quickly, and I have reason for confidence that they can do the same thing by following that same process," he said.
Victoria recorded five new COVID-19 cases on Friday, all of which are connected to the Holiday Inn outbreak.
The new cases include a female assistant manager and four close contacts of people who earlier tested positive to COVID-19.
One of the five is believed to have had some contact with Camberwell Grammar School.
"We believe there will be some additional exposure sites emerging from some of these cases," Victoria's COVID-19 Testing Commander Jeroen Weimar said on Thursday.
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