Tennis players and officials are touching down in Australia this week as they prepare for the start of the 2022 season.
It is expected that around 3,000 people associated with the Australian Open will be landing around the country, with warm-up events taking place in Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne. Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley has said the 2022 Australian Open has been “10 times” more difficult to organise than this year’s edition – and there have already been players testing positive on arrival.
But after lengthy hotel quarantines and mice-infested rooms in Australia earlier this year, what are the rules for players this time around and what could happen over the next few weeks?
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No vaccine, no entry
Before even thinking about setting foot in Australia, players will need to have been vaccinated.
After much speculation and back-and-forth between various officials, the Victorian Government ruled that there would be a Covid-19 jab mandate for athletes participating at the Australian Open. The rule also applies for players competing at the warm-up events in Sydney and Adelaide – no jab, no entry, unless there’s a medical exemption.
ATP executive vice president of communications Simon Higson revealed recently that 95 per cent of the top 100 men’s players are vaccinated.
For some players, such as doubles specialist Pierre-Hugues Herbert and young Australian Olivia Gadecki the vaccine has been a sticking point and they have decided against travelling to the tournament. Herbert, who won the men's doubles title at the Australian Open in 2019, said it is a "personal choice not to get the vaccine".
Speculation continues to rage around whether world No 1 Novak Djokovic will play the Australian Open.
Djokovic has not revealed his vaccine status and it has been reported that he has pulled out of the ATP Cup, which starts on January 1. He is listed on the Australian Open’s draw, but there continues to be a question mark over whether he will actually play.
“If Novak shows up at the Australian Open, he’ll either be vaccinated or he’ll have a medical exemption,” said Tiley last week.
If Djokovic does secure a medical exemption then he will be able to follow the same rules "as for travellers who are fully vaccinated".
Vaccinated? Tick. Next port of call, the flight.
It is expected that around 20 Tennis Australia-organised charter flights will land in Melbourne and Sydney this week.
To get on a flight a passenger will have to provide proof of a negative test in the 72 hours before flying. The charter planes have been organised by Tennis Australia to try and minimise the risk that could come with players travelling alongside members of the public. They will arrive in Australia from around the world, including Dubai, Los Angeles and Tokyo.
Players have been given the option of going on the charter flights or travelling commercially.
World No 14 Denis Shapovalov was one of the first players to arrive in Australia last week but may miss the ATP Cup as he needs to isolate for 10 days after testing positive for Covid-19. His Canada team-mate Felix Auger-Aliassime also took the commercial option and arrived in Sydney in Monday.
Players are tested upon arrival and then have to isolate until they receive a negative result.
What about close contacts?
Where the rules differ greatly from earlier this year is when it comes to close contacts.
When players touched down for the 2021 Australian Open the protocols were so strict that entire flights were classified as close contacts. That meant if there was a positive case on the flight then the rest of those on board had to go into a 14-day hard quarantine.
This time around close contacts will only have to isolate until they return a negative test result.
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Where are players staying?
Like last season, accommodation has been arranged for players.
All players competing in Melbourne will be staying at Crown Towers in a bid to limit the risk to the general public.
“This will be one of, if not the safest place to be in the world in January, because of that rigorous process everyone has been through to get here on the precinct,” said Tiley.
“All the players are staying in the same accommodation, so we have a minimised risk environment at the Crown and they’ll be staying there as a group. There will be testing on site, we’ll be managing their movements and they get straight into the cars.
“So in 2021, we were about protecting the community from the players, who were coming from environments that were ravaged with the virus and we didn’t have it. In 2022, it’s about keeping the players and our patrons on site from not getting Omicron or any variant of the virus.”
Despite the arrangements, Tiley still expects some positive test results and has advised players to stay in their own rooms to avoid any risk of quarantine if a roommate tests positive.
“If they are sharing a room with someone, or they’re in the same apartment and someone in that group tests positive, everyone in that room or that apartment has to isolate for seven days. So the advice we’ve given the players, it’s a simple one: ‘Get your own room.’”
Will there be a limit on crowds?
Not as it stands.
The Australian Open and all the warm-up events are expected to be at full capacity, and Tiley said there is "zero expectation of a cap on crowds". However, that could change as it did earlier this year when fans were barred for five days after the state of Victoria entered a five-day lockdown.
Who could miss the tournament?
Most of the players who competed at the Mubadala Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi have seen their preparations disrupted by a positive test result, including Emma Raducanu, Rafael Nadal, Belinda Bencic, Andrey Rublev and Ons Jabeur.
Nadal cast doubt on his participation by saying he couldn't "guarantee" that he would play, although Tiley said that he was confident the 35-year-old would be there.
Serena Williams, Jennifer Brady, Karolina Muchova, Karolina Pliskova and Dominic Thiem have pulled out due to injury while it’s still wait and see with Djokovic. Women’s defending champion Naomi Osaka has travelled to Australia as she prepares to play for the first time since the US Open.
The 2022 Australian Open will take place from January 17 to 30.
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