A host of tennis players were barred from practising for a fortnight Saturday in a major setback to their Australian Open preparations after two people on a charter flight that brought them to Melbourne tested positive to Covid-19.
While those who failed the test were not players, all remaining passengers were ordered to stay in their hotel rooms for the entire 14-day mandatory quarantine period.
That means the 24 players on board will not be allowed out to practise and train for the five hours each day agreed to as part of their build-up to the opening Grand Slam of the year.
According to local media, former Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, 2017 US Open winner Sloane Stephens and Japan’s Kei Nishikori were among those on the plane, which departed from Los Angeles.
The positive tests came from a member of the flight crew and reportedly a coach.
“The aircrew member and the passenger have been interviewed and transferred to a health hotel as per normal processes for positive cases,” Covid-19 Victoria, the government body helping coordinate Tennis Australia’s quarantine arrangements, said in a statement.
“All remaining 66 passengers on the flight have been determined to be close contacts. Any players and support people will not be able to leave quarantine to attend training.”
Tournament organiser Craig Tiley said he was in touch with the players.
“We are communicating with everyone on this flight, and particularly the playing group whose conditions have now changed, to ensure their needs are being catered to as much as possible, and that they are fully appraised of the situation,” he said.
The world’s top players began arriving in Australia on Thursday for the delayed Grand Slam, which is due to start on February 8.
Most touched down in Melbourne, although the biggest names in the game, including Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams, flew into Adelaide.
All must undergo a 14-day quarantine, but are allowed out for five hours daily to train in strict bio-secure bubbles ahead of a host of warm-up tournaments, all in Melbourne, in the week leading up the Grand Slam.
According to the Melbourne Herald Sun, the flight was the same one that sparked controversy on Thursday when American player Tennys Sandgren tweeted he had been allowed to board despite returning a positive test.
It was his second positive result, having been diagnosed with Covid-19 in November, but Victorian state health chiefs insisted his infection was historical and he had “met the rigorous health criteria that has been set”.
Players were only allowed to board with proof of a negative test prior to departure, or with approval as a recovered case at the discretion of the Australian government, as with Sandgren.
It was the latest setback for a tournament that has spent months working through the logistical nightmares of hosting a Grand Slam during a pandemic, with Melbourne only emerging from months of lockdown in October.
The tournament has already lost some key players, with Roger Federer out injured and world number 25 John Isner opting not to travel due to the coronavirus restrictions.
Three-time major winner Andy Murray tested positive for the virus and is isolating at home in London, casting major doubt over whether he will be able to play.
American world number 16 Madison Keys also tested positive, and pulled out.
Meanwhile, world number three Dominic Thiem arrived without coach Nicolas Massu, another to test positive, and Spanish superstar Rafael Nadal is missing his coach Carlos Moya who has decided not to make the trip.