MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Some 1,200 players and coaching staff are set to begin arriving in Melbourne this week for the Australian Open but the strict COVID-19 protocols imposed by Victoria’s government has prompted American John Isner to skip the year’s first Grand Slam.© Reuters/Thomas Peter FILE PHOTO: Tennis – Australian Open – Melbourne, Australia
Victoria, once the country’s COVID-19 hotspot, said it was imposing the strongest protocols seen at any tennis tournament for those arriving on 15 chartered flights for the Feb. 8-21 event, which was delayed by three weeks due to the pandemic.
Players and staff must isolate for two weeks before taking part in warmup events at Melbourne Park, which is also the venue for the Australian Open, from Jan. 31.
“We are assuming that every single tennis player that arrives and their officials has the potential to be positive,” Victorian Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville told reporters.
“We have put in place the strongest, the strictest rules that apply for tennis across the world.”
Severe measures would be imposed for any breach, she warned.
Former world No.8 Isner, who has a two-year-old daughter and one-year-old son, said he had decided to stay home as health guidelines and restrictions on entourages meant he would have to be away from his family for an extended period.
“It wasn’t an easy decision at all,” Isner said after his defeat in the quarter-finals of the Delray Beach Open on Monday.
“At this stage of my career and in my life, I always had visions of being able to travel with my family. Of course, that wouldn’t be the case for Australia this year. Understandably so, I get it.”
Six-times champion Federer will also be missing from Melbourne Park as he continues to work his way back to fitness from two knee operations in 2020, though there have been reports that the protocols also played a part in his decision.
Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has also withdrawn after failing to recover fully from a lower back injury.
Players will require a negative test report before arriving in Australia and they will quarantine in three Melbourne hotels – the Grand Wyatt, Pullman Albert Park and View Melbourne.
Players will be allowed five hours outside their rooms each day for practice and exercise at dedicated training bubbles and will be tested daily.
Officials and other staff will not be allowed to leave their hotel rooms for 14 days and will be tested twice during that period.
Any athlete who tests positive, as well as those deemed as close contacts, are to be moved to a designated ‘health hotel’ and will not be allowed to take part in training or any events until they are cleared.
Professional tennis has mostly been held in biosecure bubbles since it returned last August after a five-month hiatus due to the pandemic.