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before the Australian Open, tennis players in isolation

Soon “free”! The tennis players who have traveled to Australia to play the first Grand Slam tournament of the year are seeing the end of the tunnel. The fortnight of confinement that was imposed on them upon their arrival in mid-January, ends at the end of this week. At the end of this, and subject to a negative test, all the athletes will be free to move, before lining up in Melbourne for the Australian Open, this year shifted from 8 to the 21st of February.

These fourteen days of isolation will leave memories. And traces too. “The days are alike. It’s a bit long, but we’re starting to see the end ”, rejoices the French Clara Burel. The 734e world player, who reached the 3e Roland-Garros tour in the fall, won his ticket for the Australian tournament during qualifying, relocated to Dubai (United Arab Emirates) and Doha (Qatar). She made it to Australia on one of eighteen charter flights from the tournament.

The majority of the athletes who arrived in Melbourne, as well as their companions, were divided into three hotels. Tested before the flight, they had to wait for the results of a second landing test of the plane to find out if they were allowed to go out for five hours a day to train.

“Pretty futuristic impression”

But if the test of only one of the passengers of the plane turned out to be positive, the fortnight turned into strict confinement, without the possibility of training. This is what happened for 72 athletes who arrived from three different flights and declared contact cases, among which were Benoît Paire and Alexandre Müller on the French side.

“I am not allowed to leave my room”, about 15 to 20 m2, says Alexandre Müller. She has been given some maintenance equipment, such as an exercise bike or weights, but her bedroom window does not open to bring in fresh air during her sessions. The only semblance of contact with the outside world is with another Frenchman who arrived by the same plane, Quentin Halys. “We see each other diagonally when we open the door to bring us the meal, it feels good. “

During the first few days, many players in quarantine filmed themselves trading the ball against a wall. To pass the time, Nicolas Mahut created an obstacle course to bring the little yellow ball from one end of the room to the other. Gaël Monfils takes the opportunity to multiply direct on the Twitch live video platform. He also interacts with people who watch him – sometimes more than a thousand – and can talk to him through a chat.

Those who are not concerned by total isolation are allowed to train. But they must do it according to the schedules decided by the organizers. Each hotel has a unique training location. “They come to pick us up in our room, they take us there. We can do two hours of tennis, an hour and a half in the gym and we have an hour to eat and thirty minutes for transportation ”, says Clara Burel. Enough to stay in shape, not to progress in her game. Romania’s Sorana Cirstea estimated at three weeks time to get back in shape after his strict isolation.

The system – the most restrictive ever put in place for a tennis tournament – is up to the challenge facing the organizers: they were keen to welcome at all costs for the tournament more than 1,000 people from all over the world on a island-continent which has succeeded, at the cost of great sacrifices, in eliminating the presence of the virus. And this while 37,000 Australians are still stranded abroad and not allowed to return.

before the Australian Open, tennis players in isolation

” At New York, for the US Open [fin août 2020]There was security everywhere in the hotel. It was much more permeable in France during Roland-Garros. In Australia, all the people you meet are masked, have protective glasses, wear gowns. It’s quite futuristic as an impression ”, relates the wheelchair tennis champion Stéphane Houdet, multifinalist of the Australian singles event, five-time winner in doubles.

Complaints and bitterness

During the first days, several controversies erupted, some players not expecting such strict measures in Melbourne. Others pointed to conditions deemed more favorable reserved for Adelaide to certain favorites, such as Serbian Novak Djokovic.

All these recriminations and bitterness have, in return, angered part of the population. “The people of the organization who accompany us on a daily basis are very nice. They take a lot of precautions. Outside, it’s harder to know ”, says Clara Burel. The answer will come during the first exchanges of competitions, which the public has the right to attend.

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In the meantime, the organizers and the Women’s Tennis Association, which manages the women’s circuit, have decided to make a small gesture towards the players placed in isolation and allow them to have a little real playing time: they announced , Sunday, January 24, that the week preceding the Australian Open will be reshuffled to add a third preparation tournament (from February 3 to 7), which will be specially intended for them.

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