Hyatt hotel in Melbourne on February 4, 2021, as preparations for the Australian Open were thrown into chaos when up to 600 players and officials were told to isolate and get tested after a Grand Hyatt hotel staff member tested positive for Covid-19 coronavirus.
Hyatt hotel in Melbourne on February 4, 2021, as preparations for the Australian Open were thrown into chaos when up to 600 players and officials were told to isolate and get tested after a Grand Hyatt hotel staff member tested positive for Covid-19 coronavirus.
AFP

Melbourne: There were 160 players back in isolation because a hotel quarantine worker tested positive for COVID-19.

Six tuneup tournaments were suspended for a day so that 507 people connected with the Australian Open could be tested for the virus.

Apparently, no worries.

Australian Open organisers weren't deterred at all, vowing that the year's first Grand Slam tournament would start as planned next Monday, with all the tuneup tournaments completed — somehow, tweaks are expected — between Friday and Sunday.

The one-day shutdown was triggered, the Victoria state premier, a leading health official and Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley all said, out of "an abundance of caution."

"We are absolutely confident the Australian Open is going to go ahead," Tiley told a news conference Thursday against the backdrop of an almost deserted Melbourne Park.

"We will be starting on Monday and we have no intention of changing times."

Preparations have already been disruptive and chaotic for the so-called Happy Slam, even compared with some recent troubles.

Organisers and players have had to deal with searing heatwaves some years. In 2020, acrid smoke from deadly bushfires overshadowed the lead up to the tournament.

Everyone adapted, the show went on. Novak Djokovic won his eighth Australian Open title in late January 2020, and Sofia Kenin won her first major.

Two months later, the Formula One season had a false start when the Australian Grand Prix was called off before an official practice session could be staged. Drivers and teams had flown in from Europe. There were thousands of fans queuing up to enter Melbourne's Albert Park circuit. Still, the government shut it down.

Tiley was confident tennis wouldn't go the same way as the F1 GP.

"The event that we have planned and the lead-in events, we're absolutely confident it's going to go ahead," Tiley said. "The probability is very low that there's going to be an issue."

He said he'd expected all 160 players involved to have been tested by 5 p.m. and a schedule for Friday after that. The draw for the Australian was pushed back almost 24 hours to Friday, sometime in the mid-afternoon.

Uncertainty is the only certainty for players and the tennis tours.

The Australian Open chartered 17 flights and used three hotels in Melbourne for the bulk of the players to quarantine for 14 days and had other secure accommodation and facilities in Adelaide, South Australia state, for some of the biggest stars, including Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.

Of those, 72 players were forced into hard lockdown after passengers on their flights later returned positive tests for the virus. Unlike the bulk of the players, they weren't allowed out for five hours of supervised daily practice during quarantine.

Not only will the latest issue test the resolve of players who've already been through two weeks of quarantine, it will also give ammunition to critics of the government decision to allow about 1,200 people to fly in from all over the world at a time when coronavirus cases were surging in some countries but under control in Australia.

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