MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Former U.S. Open and Wimbledon finalist Kevin Anderson appealed to players at the Australian Open to show more respect for the local community’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, following a chorus of complaints about quarantine conditions in Melbourne.
As many as 72 players are confined to their hotel rooms for two weeks and unable to train for the Feb. 8-21 Grand Slam after passengers on three charter flights tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Complaints by some players over the severity of the health measures, food quality and even mice infestations in their rooms have sparked a backlash in Australia, which has many citizens stranded overseas due to pandemic-linked border restrictions.
Novak Djokovic was panned after writing to Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley to ask for reduced isolation periods and having players moved to “private houses with tennis courts”.
The world No. 1 said on Wednesday his good intentions had been “misconstrued as being selfish, difficult and ungrateful”.
Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut and Alize Cornet apologised for their comments over the last few days and Anderson said players had to stop and think about how much Australians had sacrificed to stamp out the virus.
“We all really need to respect whatever Australia has gone through to get to this point where, you know, just driving through the courts you see the residents of Melbourne walking around without masks, interacting, and I know that they’ve sacrificed to get to that point,” he told ABC Radio Melbourne.
The 34-year-old Anderson, who stepped in to lead the ATP Player Council last year after Djokovic stepped down to form a breakaway players body, said comments from disgruntled players were borne of frustration.
This was especially so as many of their fellow competitors, who arrived in Melbourne and Adelaide in 14 other charter flights, were able to spend five hours a day outside their rooms to practice as they were not on flights with passengers later found to be positive for the virus.
“From the players perspective I really hope that they can see what’s going on, and from the community you know they at least forgive the players who have said things and understand that,” Anderson added.
Australia has managed the pandemic well through targeted lockdowns and high rates of testing and contact tracing.
Local media reported that world No. 1 Ash Barty apologised after she was seen maskless at a departmental store in Melbourne despite a Victoria state requirement that masks be worn inside indoor shopping centres.
Victoria, home to the Australian Open, recorded a 15th straight day without local infections on Thursday.
Former UFC champion Conor McGregor, never one to mince words, urged complaining tennis players to get some perspective.
“I’m actually surprised to hear that the tennis players are kicking up. We’ve gotta correct ourselves, there’s a lot going on and a lot at risk,” McGregor told Channel 10’s The Project.
“It’s everyone’s duty on this earth to do what they can. To get to compete in a such a prestigious tennis tournament – or any tournament – a two-week lockdown prior, you should welcome it with open arms. I know I would.”
Maria Sakkari, ranked 22nd, is one of the players in strict quarantine for 14 days, and while the Greek said she missed breathing fresh air, she appreciated the fact she was allowed to travel to Australia.
“I’m so grateful that you guys allowed us to come into your country while you were not allowing anyone else to come in,” Sakkari told Melbourne radio station 3AW.
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; additional reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; editing by Peter Rutherford and Bernadette Baum)