All the Racket over the Australian Open

The Australian Open – the first major tennis tournament of the year – is due to commence on 8 February. The grand slam is usually held in the final fortnight of January, but has been delayed thanks to the pandemic.

And indeed, in light of international travel restrictions, it is remarkable the tournament is going ahead at all. The Victorian opposition and even Qantas CEO Alan Joyce have claimed a double standard in the Victorian government’s decision to prevent Victorians from Covid-19 hot-spots from returning to Victoria, while allowing the tennis to go ahead.

Now that they have begun to arrive in Melbourne, criticisms are being lobbed at the state government by the players themselves. The players have been flown in on long charter flights from places like Doha and Los Angeles, with 15 flights in all transporting 1,000 players and support staff. 

For those players unlucky enough to be on a flight from which somebody tests positive for the coronavirus upon arrival, a quarantine hotel becomes their home for the next 14 days. The others are not quarantined, operate within a “bio-secure bubble” and have access to training facilities for five hours per day.

The controversy over Victoria's decision to go ahead with the grand slam tournament.

Being hyper-competitive types, the players are predictably upset by this. Women’s world no.12 Belinda Bencic claimed that this particular quarantine rule was not agreed upon beforehand. Novak Djokovic has said the same, and published what has become known as a “list of demands,” including that players be accommodated in private houses with tennis courts.

Premier Dan Andrews has been characteristically outspoken. “People are free to provide lists of demands. But the answer is no,” he told the press. “That was very clearly laid out beforehand. So the notion that there’s been any change, the notion that people weren’t briefed – I think that that argument really has no integrity whatsoever.” Fifteen-love!

As of Tuesday, there were 72 people in hard lock-down. Six people have tested positive for Covid-19 across three flights. The players among them are now forced to train on exercise bikes and frankly sad attempts to practice their tennis inside.

The tennis controversy should be kept in perspective. There are already 4,000 Australians returning home each week. The Australian Open brought in just 1,000 additional people.

But Australians’ attitudes on the subject have been remarkably hard line. In a recent poll, two out of every three people supported closing the international border entirely, including to returning Australians.

So it’s no surprise the tennis debate has created quite the storm in a teacup, and should make for some interesting left-field results when play finally begins.

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