Australian Open tennis 2021: Naomi Osaka photo triggers tennis ‘revolt’ amid claims of Australian Open divide
From bitter social media posts to workouts using mattresses as hitting partners, dozens of the world’s best tennis players confined to Australian hotels for two weeks are dealing with their confinement in contrasting ways.
The Australian Open in Melbourne has been delayed three weeks until February 8 because of the coronavirus pandemic, and has run into new problems this week.
Positive COVID-19 cases on three of 17 charter flights into the country mean 72 players have been confined to their rooms for the entire 14-day quarantine period.
Others are allowed out for five hours a day, to train in bio-secure bubbles.
It’s led to accusations of a class divide in the game after images of players from the so-called megastar flight that carried the likes of Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka to Adelaide out on court has frustrated those unable to leave their Melbourne hotel rooms.
Frenchman Jeremy Chardy accused Tennis Australia earlier this month of an uneven playing field, claiming the Adelaide-based players would “have a lot of privilege”.
And now footage of Osaka, the 2019 AO champion, taking part in her first training session in Adelaide with multiple support staff has left Melbourne-based players fuming, according to Italian journalist Luca Fiorino.
“A revolt broke out,” Fiorino wrote on Twitter.
“The players are not very happy for the unequal treatment in relation to big players in Adelaide.
“This photo of Naomi Osaka has driven their (sic) mad.”
American reporter Jon Wertheim reported on Twitter that “fortunate players” in Adelaide had been “encouraged” to stop uploading social media posts as it had “inflamed tensions”.
Tennis writer Ben Rothenberg added players had been instructed to avoid posting practice images to social media, “lest the jealousy of the locked-down seed even more unrest”.
Austrian doubles specialist Philipp Oswald, who’s in a two-week quarantine in Melbourne, on the weekend told Tennisnet that Adelaide-based players were receiving several advantages.
“First, players were allowed to take a lot more staff with them,” Oswald said.
“They also have a gym in their hotel. So they don’t have to do their fitness exercises during the five-hour period (when they are allowed outside their rooms).
“You only have the five hours to play tennis. There was a huge discussion and the other players were also upset. It’s not apples and apples here, but apples and pears – and I caught the sour lemon.”
Japan’s Taro Daniel told the Herald Sun on Monday: “People in Adelaide are being able to hit with four people on court, so there’s some resentment towards that as well.
“Tennis always has these very unfair treatments towards top players and lower players, especially during grand slams.
“The court time they get to hit usually is completely different … which I think, to a certain extent, they deserve, but especially during a crisis like this it gets even bigger.”
The other players are having to find some creative solutions as they try to stay occupied and in shape over two weeks of isolation:
World number 12 Belinda Bencic revealed her new training method for quarantine, posting a video of her practising two-handed backhands against her hotel window.
Her hotel neighbours may have had something to say about the racket, but she seemed to have no problem with her new glass training partner, which returned every shot.
“Wrong surface, but that doesn’t matter for us,” she tweeted. Uruguayan star Pablo Cuevas, ranked 68th in the world, used another clever hack for his backhand practice: a mattress turned vertically against the wall.
“Yes, I’m going crazy,” he wrote on Instagram.
Instead of working on shot technique, one player was pictured in his hotel window lifting dumbbells over his head.
Several players took to social media to complain about the hotel food on offer. Europeans Fabio Fognini, Pablo Correno Busta, Corentin Moutet and Marco Cecchinato all posted their disapproval of the Aussie fare served to their rooms.
“Really?” asked Busta, alongside photographic evidence of his culinary horror. Others chose to avoid the quarantine menu altogether, throw their diet out of the window, and order fast food to their room.
World number 28 Benoit Paire and world number 118 Damis Dzumhur — who have racked up more than $10 million in career prize money between them — posted pictures of their chosen quarantine fuel: McDonald’s.
Unlike other players, Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva discovered that she was not alone in quarantine.
The world number 187 posted a video of a mouse running around her hotel room and tweeted that she tried to move to another room without success because of the strict quarantine rules.
She said the unwanted roommate was the fault of the authorities who selected her quarantine location.
“They put me not in the nicest hotel like other players!” she wrote.
– ‘Crazy’ complaints – While some of the quarantined players posted about their revamped diets and training regimes, others showed no love for their new surroundings.
Austrian Philipp Oswald called the two-week quarantine “crazy” and said the new rules were “never communicated to us” before the charters flights.
World number 71 Sorana Cirstea of Romania said she would not have travelled to Australia if there was a chance of hard quarantine.
“I have no issues to stay 14 days in the room watching Netflix. What we can’t do is COMPETE after we have stayed 14 days on a couch,” she tweeted.
Many social media users have derided the players, accusing them of being entitled for moaning about their free stay while thousands of Australians remain stranded abroad.
Former tennis player and coach Roger Rasheed offered them some words of wisdom instead.
“You can create a program in your hotel room, which will be quite physical and demanding,” he wrote in a commentary Sunday for Melbourne’s daily newspaper ‘The Age’.
Rasheed said the players’ conditioning should have been sorted beforehand, and called on those complaining online to be more positive about their confinement.
“The players are lucky to come to a country with strict health measures … and should be grateful they can play a grand slam during the pandemic,” he concluded.
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