Anticipation quickly turned to frustration as scores of players found themselves unable to leave their hotel rooms in compliance with Australian government rules designed to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus. They thought they knew what they were getting into as they arrived in the country for the Australian Open; after all, protocols had been communicated to them way back in mid-December, with the first Grand Slam of the year delayed by three weeks precisely to allow for quarantine measures. What they didn’t plan on was being unable to practice at all — a fate they are now resigned to after others in their chartered flights returned positive tests.
To be sure, “resigned” doesn’t exactly describe their sentiments. Some players have taken to social media to air their grievances, and the optics have been far from ideal. Pushback was swift, with not a few responses highlighting their seemingly entitled positions. In any case, there can be no going around the regulations. From the outset, all and sundry have rightly noted that health and safety conditions come first above all else. And with Australia among the few nations appearing to have a good grasp of keeping the spread of the virus to a minimum, there is no chance “special considerations” will be given participants of a sporting spectacle, even one as important as the Australian Open.
Not that the players in hard quarantine don’t have cause to lament their plight. From a competitive standpoint, there is the not insignificant fact that other players who arrived in Australia without complications have been able to break isolation in order to train while under strict supervision. Admittedly, the dichotomy does bring about questions on fair play, or lack thereof. Then again, that was the way the ball bounced, pun wholly intended, and the disadvantaged have no choice but to cope. Among the remedies: using the glass window, the underside of the mattress, or the cabinet to bounce balls off in order to stay sharp while waiting out the mandatory two weeks in isolation. Meanwhile, Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley has promised to “play our part to even [the playing field] up as much as possible;” those who have had to do with little practice time in the interim will likely find their matches scheduled later rather than sooner.
All things considered, though, any news on the Australian Open is good news. The alternative would have been to forego it just as Wimbledon did last year — a no-no for fans already reeling from the absence of normalcy in the sport. It’s not the best case, but the best under the circumstances. As two-time champion of the first event on the major rota noted in an impassioned tweet yesterday, “we need to accept, adapt, and keep moving.” Indeed.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.