Doubles specialist Artem Sitak claims players were warned about the possibility of having to go into hard lockdown before the Australian Open and says he was surprised that not many were on a conference call discussing the protocols.
A total of 72 players are currently in hard lockdown in Melbourne hotels after three chartered flights to Australia returned five positive COVID-19 cases.
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Under Victoria’s strict protocols, the 72 players can’t leave their hotel rooms for 14 days, meaning they can’t train or see their coaches face-to-face to prepare for the Australian Open.
Players who weren’t on flights where positive cases were recorded are allowed outside to train for up to five hours every day.
The hard lockdown measures caused outrage among players over the weekend, with many claiming the rules were changed after arriving in Australia.
Some said they were told they wouldn’t necessarily have to go into hard quarantine should a passenger on their flight test positive, however Sitak has since contradicted those claims.
The Russian-born New Zealand player took to social media to “clarify” the controversy.
“We had a call with Tennis Australia about a month ago and not a lot of players were on that call, which was surprising to me. But hey, that’s how it was,” he said in a video posted to Instagram.
“Basically Tennis Australia, the organisers, they told us the risks that we would be undertaking and they did mention that if somebody tests positive on the flight, it’s going to be up to the health authorities to decide whether to quarantine all the flight or just isolate compartments of the plane.
“Now in our case, where the flight attendant tested positive, of course the whole plane has to be quarantined.
“And also knowing the very, very strict rules of the Australian government regarding the virus, after that call, in my mind I knew that if for some reason somebody tested positive on the plane, I’m going to have to quarantine for 14 days.
“So I was prepared to take that risk and I knew that was a possibility. I was hoping that was not going to happen.”
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) January 17, 2021
Sitak called on his fellow players to have some perspective, considering a lot of Australians can’t get back into the country at the moment.
Players claim rules were changed after arrival
A number of players have taken to social media to express their frustration at being stuck in a hotel room and not being able to properly prepare for the year’s first major, due to start at Melbourne Park on February 8.
Swiss World No.12 Belinda Bencic insisted on Twitter that the quarantine rules were changed for players on arrival.
“We made our decision to come here from rules that were sent to us. Then we arrived and received an information/rule book with more/new rules that we did not know about,” Bencic tweeted.
“We are not complaining (about being) in quarantine. We are complaining because of unequal practice/playing conditions before quite important tournaments.”
Romania’s Sorana Cirstea said she wouldn't have come if she'd known the entire plane-load of travellers would be put into isolation because of a positive test.
“If they would have told us this rule before, I would not play in Australia. I would have stayed home,” the World No.71 tweeted.
“They told us we would fly at 20 per cent capacity, in sections, and we would be a close contact only if my team or cohort tests positive.”
She also complained that she now wanted to return home but wasn't allowed.
However former Australian player-turned-coach and commentator Rennae Stubbs was among those with little sympathy for the players, who would earn $100,000 even if they lost in the first round.
“I have opinions on these tennis players complaining about the quarantine situation here in OZ & for the Australian Open & they're NOT going to want to hear it from me,” Stubbs tweeted.
“Its got something to do with a minimum of $100,000, free flights, food & lots more, want to talk @ me kids?”
I have opinions on these tennis players complaining about the quarantine situation here in OZ & for the @AustralianOpen & theyre NOT going to want to hear it from me. Its got something to do with a minimum of $100,000, free flights, food & lots more, want to talk @ me kids? pic.twitter.com/BuxN0iTM43
— Rennae Stubbs OLY (@rennaestubbs) January 17, 2021
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