Could stricter covid rules lead to a shock winner at the Australian Open 2021?

Australian Open 2021

The first round of the Australian Open will get underway in just a matter of days. However, the excitement that surrounds the first Grand Slam tournament of the year has been somewhat marred by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Firstly, the tournament was delayed by a few of weeks due to covid, in fact the winner should have already been crowned by now, and then there’s the strict quarantine Down Under that has caused major tension among the tournament organisers and many professionals on the tour circuit.

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic is one of the most high-profile players to have hit out at the Australian Open chiefs in regard to the strict hotel quarantine. Over 70 players have had to isolate for 14 days in the build-up to the tournament, and Djokovic, who was rather unhappy with the measures, even though he wasn’t among those who had to follow the stricter rules, reportedly requested for the period to be reduced along with a long list of other things, including ‘private houses with tennis courts.’ However, those requests were quickly dismissed by the organisers.

The Serbian, who is the favourite to defend his crown with sites like Betdaq, isn’t the only player to have vented his frustrations. World No. 13 Roberto Bautista Agut said that quarantine was ‘really, really tough’ and described it as ‘like jail with WiFi’, whilst his Spanish compatriot, Paula Badosa, who tested positive for covid-19 six days after touching down in Melbourne, said that she felt abandoned because she wasn’t allowed the training equipment that she had requested.  

It’s worth noting that not everybody on the tennis tours shares those views. Last year’s runner-up Dominic Thiem, who will be looking to build on his US Open triumph, told Eurosport that players knew what to expect when travelling to Australia.

“It’s very crazy times, but we knew what to expect,” the Austrian said. “Here in Australia, it’s a bit stricter again, which is understandable. The coronavirus is almost extinct in their country and they want to prevent it from being brought back in.

“It’s very strict. We can train for about two hours a day and go out for about four hours. The rest of the time is spent in the hotel.”

Djokovic has also come under scrutiny from the likes of the controversial Nick Kyrgios, who labelled the Serb ‘a tool’, and his bitter rival Rafael Nadal. In an apparent swipe at Djokovic, the 20-time Grand Slam winner told ESPN, “Some need to make public all they do to try to help others, while some of us do it privately without publishing our calls or making propaganda with it.”

Of course, the confinement of quarantine can have an adverse effect on many people. It will certainly affect the game of some professionals come February 8th, especially those in the stricter isolation who have not had the same pre-tournament warm-up as those with slightly looser restrictions.

In fact, even Djokovic could be affected by the whole scenario. He looked like a frustrated figure for the most part of last season, those frustrations even boiled over at some points, like when he struck a line judge at Flushing Meadows with a ball hit out in anger, and with organisers and fellow professionals taking swipes left, right and centre, on top of quarantine, he could be ready to boil over again.

Those who have kept a cool head over the last couple of weeks, like Nadal and Thiem, are worth watching, however, as they haven’t been caught up in it all. They are focused on the tennis, and they will definitely have their eyes on the prize.

We won’t know the mental and physical state of players until the tournament gets underway, but it’s clear that some are affected more than others, and that could lead to a shock winner at Melbourne Park.

Tennis players aren’t the first sports personnel to hit out at quarantine measures, and they probably won’t the last, but if we want tournaments to go ahead, and in a safe manner, then it is something that organisers need to stand by.

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