'This is insane': Aus Open players rage after 'rules changed overnight'

Tennis players wearing masks arrive in Melbourne from a flight ahead of the Australian Open.
Tennis stars arrive in Melbourne ready for quarantine ahead of the Australian Open. (Getty Images)

Tennis stars have expressed their frustration at the ‘overnight rule’ changes after 47 players were barred from training for a fortnight Saturday in a major setback to their Australian Open preparations.

The lead-up to the tournament took a massive hit after passengers on two charter flights that brought them to Melbourne tested positive to Covid-19.

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One of the positive tests was returned by Sylvain Bruneau, the coach of Canada's 2019 US Open winner Bianca Andreescu.

He said he was "saddened and sorry for the consequences" after arriving on a flight from Abu Dhabi.

Everyone on board the two flights, considered as close contacts, has been ordered to stay in their hotel rooms for the entire 14-day mandatory quarantine period.

It means none of them will be allowed out to train for the five hours each day agreed to as part of their build-up to the opening major of the year, Tennis Australia said.

That included 24 players on a plane from Los Angeles, where a crew member and one other passenger, reportedly a coach, tested positive.

According to local media, former Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, 2017 US Open winner Sloane Stephens and Japan's Kei Nishikori were among those on board.

Twenty-three players, including Grand Slam winners Andreescu, Angelique Kerber and Svetlana Kuznetsova were on the flight from Abu Dhabi.

Belinda Bencic celebrating after a point.
Belinda Bencic was one player to point out the frustration of the conditions changing after arriving and being forced in quarantine. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Players took so social media in isolation and hit out at the ‘overnight’ rule change after landing to the news they would be in a strict lockdown for two weeks.

"We are not complaining to be in quarantine," tweeted Swiss world number 12 Belinda Bencic.

"We are complaining because of unequal practice/playing conditions before quite important tournaments."

Romania's Sorana Cirstea, ranked 71, tweeted: "I was planning to play the tournament because they promised daily 5 h quarantine exemption where we could go practice, do a gym session and rehab. This was the deal before signing up to this...but the rules changed 'overnight'!"

Kazakh star Yulia Putintseva said if it was made clear to her about the rules on the chartered flights, she may have opted out of the tournament.

“What I don’t understand is that, why no one ever told us, if one person on board is positive the whole plane need to be isolated, I would think twice before coming here,” she wrote on Twitter.

Cirstea agreed with the comment and also claimed she would need three weeks of training to get back into top form before a tournament after the layoff.

Aus Open players react to ‘insane’ situation

Bruneau said that he had tested negative within 72 hours of his flight's departure from the Gulf and "felt perfectly fine when I boarded."

He insisted he had followed all the protocols while in the Middle East.

"I have no idea how I might have contracted this virus."

He added: "The rest of my team is negative and I sincerely hope that any further disruption is kept to a minimum."

French player Alize Cornet, who is in Melbourne but was not on either plane, called the situation "insane".

"Soon, half of the players from the AO will actually have to isolate," she tweeted.

"Weeks and weeks of practice and hard work going to waste for one person positive to Covid in a 3/4 empty plane. Sorry but this is insane."

The world's top players began arriving in Australia on Thursday for the delayed Grand Slam, which is due to start on February 8.

Despite the uproar, tennis journalist Reem Abulleil pointed out there would be eight days between the end of quarantine and the Australian Open for the players to train.

Most touched down in Melbourne, although the biggest names in the game, including Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams, flew into Adelaide.

All must undergo a 14-day quarantine, but are allowed out for five hours daily to train in strict bio-secure bubbles ahead of a host of warm-up tournaments, all in Melbourne, in the week leading up the Grand Slam.

Chaos at Australian Open

According to the Melbourne Herald Sun, the Los Angeles flight was the same one that sparked controversy on Thursday when American player Tennys Sandgren tweeted he had been allowed to board despite returning a positive test.

It was his second positive result, having been diagnosed with Covid-19 in November, but Victorian state health chiefs insisted his infection was historical and he had "met the rigorous health criteria that has been set".

Players were only allowed to board with proof of a negative test prior to departure, or with approval as a recovered case at the discretion of the Australian government, as with Sandgren.

It was the latest setback for a tournament that has spent months working through the logistical nightmares of hosting a Grand Slam during a pandemic, with Melbourne only emerging from months of lockdown in October.

The tournament has already lost some key players, with Roger Federer out injured and world number 25 John Isner opting not to travel due to the coronavirus restrictions.

Three-time major winner Andy Murray tested positive for the virus and is isolating at home in London, casting doubt on whether he will be able to play.

American world number 16 Madison Keys also tested positive, and pulled out.

Meanwhile, world number three Dominic Thiem arrived without coach Nicolas Massu, another to test positive, and Nadal is missing his coach Carlos Moya who has decided not to make the trip.

with AFP