Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Tennis stars eye freedom ahead of Australian Open

Tennis stars eye freedom ahead of Australian Open

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Novak Djokovic will play an exhibition in Adelaide on Friday. AFP

Tennis stars eye freedom ahead of Australian Open

The world’s top tennis stars are set to emerge from a gruelling two weeks stuck in their hotel rooms over coming days as they race to get match fit before their coronavirus-disrupted season resumes in Australia.

Seventeen charter flights jetted the cream of the sport into Melbourne and Adelaide this month ahead of the delayed Australian Open, with everyone on board whisked into 14 days of mandatory quarantine.

The plan was to allow them five hours a day to practise outside, and many have enjoyed the privilege.

But eight positive Covid-19 cases from the more than 1,000 players, coaches and officials who arrived in largely virus-free Australia threw preparations for others into disarray.

Seventy-two players have been confined to their Melbourne rooms 24 hours a day, forced to strike balls against mattresses and exercise as best they can, sparking complaints about the tough conditions.

But the ordeal is ending, with the first players expected to taste freedom on January 28 evening, and others let out gradually depending on when their flights touched down.

A bumper six ATP and WTA tournaments await them beginning on January 31, all at Melbourne Park and squeezed into a week to make up for lost time in the lead-up the season-opening Grand Slam on February 8.

Spanish great Rafael Nadal, who is gunning to win a 21st Slam title, moving him past the injured Roger Federer, said he felt “privileged” to play at all given the devastation wrought by the pandemic globally.

He told CNN this week: “It’s a different situation than usual, it’s much more sad for everyone.

“But at least we’re here, we’re going to have a chance to play here. The world is suffering in general, so we can’t complain.

“I feel that we are privileged people today, having the chance to keep doing our jobs,” he added.

Serena Williams, who is still searching for one more Slam title to equal Margaret Court’s record 24, echoed those sentiments, calling the bio-security rules “super, super strict”, but adding: “They’re doing it right.”

While most players flew into Melbourne, Nadal, Williams and other superstars including Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka arrived in Adelaide, where they will play an exhibition on January 29.

They have enjoyed the five-hour daily blocks of training while staying in reportedly bigger and better rooms, leading to mutterings about preferential treatment.

Nadal will start his season there with a two-set clash against world No3 Dominic Thiem, while world No1 Djokovic gets under way against young Italian Jannik Sinner.

Williams faces Osaka while top-ranked Ashleigh Barty takes on world No2 Simona Halep.

They then head to Melbourne with Djokovic, Nadal, and Thiem playing in the ATP Cup from February 2, an event slimmed down to 12 teams from the usual 24.

Barty, Williams, Halep and Osaka headline the WTA Gippsland Trophy and Yarra Valley Classic, starting on January 31.

A third event, the Grampians Trophy, begins on February 3 for players in hard lockdown who have not been able to train at all, including Victoria Azarenka and Angelique Kerber, both former Australian Open winners.

Barty has been sidelined for almost a year after opting out of travelling due to the pandemic, but said she expected to click quickly into gear.

“The last two or three weeks have been a kind of a little bit impatient, kind of itching, getting ready to play,” she said. “But it’s been a long pre-season . . . and certainly ready to go now.

“I can’t wait to be out there and as players we have to be extremely grateful and appreciative of the opportunity we get to play,” she added.

While the top players have yet to play this season, others tuned up at the WTA Abu Dhabi Open, won by world No7 Aryna Sabalenka, and the ATP Antalya Open, where Australian Alex De Minaur triumphed.

Pole Hubert Hurkacz was champion at the Delray Beach Classic, the only other tournament played so far this year.


  • Kingdom's Covid cluster cases jump to 194

    The Ministry of Health on February 25 confirmed 65 new cases of Covid-19, with 58 linked to the February 20 community transmission. The latest cluster cases include nine Vietnamese nationals, five Cambodians, one each from Korea, Singapore and Japan, with the rest being Chinese. This brings the total number

  • Preah Sihanouk hit with travel ban

    Preah Sihanouk Provincial Administration has announced a temporary travel ban to and from the province, except for ambulances and trucks transporting goods. The announcement came after prime minister Hun Sen called on people in the province to travel only if necessary, and that people not

  • Cambodia's Covid cluster cases rise to 137

    The Ministry of Health on February 24 recorded 40 more cases of Covid-19, with 38 linked to the February 20 community transmission. Of the 40, two are imported cases involving Chinese passengers. The 38 include two Vietnamese nationals and one Cambodian, with the rest being Chinese. This brings the total cases

  • AstraZeneca jabs touch down in Phnom Penh airport

    The first shipment of 324,000 doses of the AstraZeneca/SII vaccine which was provided through the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) Facility was delivered to Phnom Penh International Airport on March 2. The rest of the COVAX provided vaccines will arrive in Cambodia at a later date.

  • Covid cluster raises alarm, health bodies urge vigilance

    The Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia have expressed great concern over the February 20 cluster transmission of Covid-19 in the community. Both entities appealed for vigilance and cooperation in curbing further spread of the virus. Ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine said

  • Cambodia's cluster cases jump to 259

    The Ministry of Health on February 27 recorded 26 more cases of Covid-19 linked to the February 20 community transmission, bringing the total to 259 in one week. The 26 include three Vietnamese nationals and one Cambodian, with the rest being Chinese. The ministry noted that five of the Chinese