Qualifying matches nearly 12,000 kilometers from the main tournament! This is the unprecedented situation facing hundreds of players until Wednesday January 13, in Dubai (United Arab Emirates) and Doha (Qatar). Everyone was looking for a ticket to the big draw at the Australian Open which will take place in three weeks, from February 8 to 21.
It is a departure from the habits in this sport of traditions. In tennis, qualifications are usually held on site the week before the major tournament. A sprain that is due to the upheaval of the Covid-19, which upset the start of the season.
And that’s not all. The 32 qualified men and women tables will climb in the coming hours in one of the 18 charters chartered by the Australian Federation, owner of the Grand Slam. They will join the automatically qualified and their coaches.
Spared in 2020 by the coronavirus pandemic which broke out a few weeks after the final, the Australian major tournament is in turn affected by the epidemic. The authorities of the state of Victoria even suggested for a long time that they would ban the tournament. At the cost of laborious negotiations between the local government and the tournament director, we arrived at a device that makes you dizzy.
Nineteen hours a day in the hotel room
These 1,300 people – 400 players, coaches, referees and officials – installed at a good distance in these almost empty planes to respect the barrier gestures, will be subjected to a partial fortnight, the development of which has resulted in nights of palaver. Finally, those concerned will be entitled to five hours of outing per day from their hotel to go train in secure stadiums, before returning to their hotel room where they will stay the other 19 hours.
This happy prospect hardly enchants the players, some of whom have declined the invitation, such as John Isner, 35, who said “Prefer to stay at home with their children”. Officially, it is Roger Federer’s knee that prevents the Swiss from participating for the first time in his career in the Australian party, but it seems that the prospect of having to do without his family usually accompanying him on all travel is no stranger to its package. “The problem is that Mirka (his wife) and their children would not be able to leave the room. They should stay fourteen days at the hotel as the daily exit permission is only valid for players ”, Andre Sà, director of the Australian Federation for player relations, told Brazilian media.
The matter is further complicated when we know that all players will not all be in the same boat. The small fry will be consigned in Melbourne, while the gratin, about forty leading players, will be housed in the city of Adelaide. They will compete there at the end of January for an exhibition to bring in money in the coffers of the Australian Federation, pierced by the charter of 18 planes.
This double speed treatment, triple if we know that the very best will be entitled to promotional outings, caused a beginning of discontent in the circuit. « Cit’s weird, to put it mildly, explained the French Jérémy Chardy. They will even be able to benefit from a gym at the hotel and will be able to do their exercises which will not count towards the five hour quota. They will almost be able to live normally. If they can do it all more than you, the preparation will not be the same. It’s weird for a sport where we’re all supposed to be on an equal footing. “
The general training conditions of the players will be spartan and monitored, each one having to declare the name of his partner for the first week and possibly two others for the second. Each scrutinizing the health facts and actions of the partners. “We were told that if one person in the (training) group tested positive everyone would be put in solitary confinement, which is not fair”, said the Tunisian Ons Jabeur.
This misadventure had happened to the French Benoît Paire and Kristina Mladenovic at the last US Open and it had partly ruined the rest of their season. The Australian Federation intends to look after the grain after the Sam Querrey case. The American had left a tournament after a positive test instead of isolating himself on the spot, which cost him a $ 16,000 (€ 13,000) fine imposed by the ATP.