January 17, 2021

And So It Begins...

The Australian Open is still three weeks away, but players have descended upon Melboure well ahead of time this year, ready to enter the bubble and subject themselves to a slew of guidelines implemented in the wake of the COVID pandemic. And, as could've been expected, not everything has gone according to plan.

Critter issues aside, though, seventy-two players and their teams have been forced to isolate in their hotel rooms for fourteen days after passengers on their flights to the event tested positive for the virus. That prevents them from practicing or training under the already-strict protocols put in place by officials -- non-quarantined players are allowed two hours a day on court, another two hours at the gym, and an hour to eat -- until just a week before play kicks off.

And while some have tried to make the best of the situation, many are understandably peeved. After all, they've already lost the warm-up events that traditionally come ahead of the Australian Open, so most haven't seen match play since October at least. And these added restrictions put them well behind those who were able to practice more normally.

There is certainly a feeling of the haves and have nots. Players like Novak Djokovic -- who, remember, already had COVID over the summer -- and Rafael Nadal flew straight to Adelaide, where they're playing an exhibition next week, and are allowed more time out of their rooms and have access to more facilities.

Still, the second any of these players got on a plane to travel halfway across the world, they had to know they were taking a risk. Many are complaining the rules changed "overnight" or that they weren't told they'd have to quarantine if any passenger on their flight tested positive. Apparently, they were willing to accept the consequences if someone in their immediate team was affected, but didn't expect to extend that courtesy more broadly.

Not all players are taking a chance, though. Madison Keys pulled out of the Open after testing positive for COVID, while Andy Murray with the same result looks doubtful. But on the other hand, there's Tennys Sandgren, who got a positive result just on Monday and was still allowed to cross the globe.

It all speaks to the difficulties of putting on such a big event during these uncertain times, and the challenges in making sure all payers have the same opportunities while keeping everyone safe and healthy. Nearly a year into this pandemic we still haven't gotten all the answers and should know there is no right solution. But for now, the Open will go on -- what it looks like is anyone's guess.

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