Serena Williams celebrated her release from quarantine by taking her 3-year old daughter to the zoo and then defeating Naomi Osaka in a match tiebreak at Adelaide’s ‘A Day at The Drive’ exhibition on Friday.
We haven’t played in front of a crowd in over a year so it’s been a really long time. So this is really cool and then for having us, and trusting us with your laws was great. We were so happy just to be here. Now it’s worth it. Serena Williams
Williams praised Australia’s quarantine system but admitted the two weeks of restrictions were ‘super intense’ and a bit ‘insane’ with a toddler in tow.
While she was quarantining in Adelaide ahead of the Australian Open, which will kick off in Melbourne on 8 February, Williams endured ‘an extra wrinkle’ in the shape of Olympia.
“We had a calendar in our room and every day we marked an ‘X’ on the day that went by and a big circle on the quarantine ending day and we promised her that we would take her to the zoo to see koalas and kangaroos,” she said.
“I’m so glad the quarantine is over, because to be in a room with a 3-year-old and being her best friend is definitely difficult … But honestly I wouldn’t trade anything for spending hours with her, it was really fun.”
More than 1,200 players, coaches and officials heading to Australia for the Grand Slam were put into quarantine hotels in Adelaide and Melbourne after arriving on charter flights from around the world.
The first groups were released from isolation late on Thursday in Melbourne and all but a handful of the cohort are expected to be cleared by midday on Sunday.
Williams marked her release with a win Naomi Osaka at Memorial Drive, 6-2 2-6 [10-7].
Osaka, The 2019 Australian Open champion, showed her rust by spraying the ball all over the court at the outset, and failing to get her service game working in the blustery conditions in front of 4,000 cheering fans, but rallied her form to take the second set and force the breaker.
Friday’s exhibition event is the first staging of an international sporting event in Australia since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and the images of the world’s best tennis stars playing in front of fans is understandably leaving tennis fans around the world looking on with awe about Australia’s success in dealing with the global virus.
“We haven’t played in front of a crowd in over a year so it’s been a really long time,” Williams said after the match. “So this is really cool and then for having us, and trusting us with your laws was great.
“We were so happy just to be here. Now it’s worth it.”
Osaka added:: “Just really thanks for coming out. I haven’t seen people in — it feels like forever, so just to play in front of you guys is really amazing.”
Commentators complimented Australia on being able to stage such a big event during the pandemic, but the sight also angered many after the images exposed the failures of many other countries to take the necessary action needed to slow the spread of the virus.
Aussie tennis great Casey Dellacqua told Channel 9 in commentary that the Day at the Drive event in Adelaide is just as special for fans as it is for the players.
“That’s the one thing the players have said, they are just so excited to be out here playing in front of the fans,” she said. “That’s what we play for. That’s what the sport is about.”
Meanwhile Reuters reports that Australia may resume its travel bubble with New Zealand in coming days after health officials reassess the travel corridor pause on a daily basis and the state of Victoria eases border controls ahead of hosting the first tennis Grand Slam of the year in Melbourne.
The trans-Tasman bubble, which has allowed New Zealand residents to travel to Australia without quarantining, was frozen after New Zealand confirmed its first case in months on Monday of a variant that emerged in South Africa.
“If there are continued excellent results out of New Zealand, which is commensurate with their entire performance over the course of the pandemic, then we hope to be in a position to resume (travel) in the coming days,” Australia’s Health Minister Greg Hunt told media.
Victoria began relaxing month-long travel restrictions on visitors from Sydney on Friday, as the world’s top tennis talent emerged from their 14-day hotel quarantine in Melbourne and neighbouring Adelaide.
Australia has recorded nearly a fortnight free of community transmission with authorities bringing an outbreak that began before Christmas in the most populous New South Wales state under control, while logging 5 new cases on Friday, all in overseas travellers in quarantine, bringing total cases to around 28,800 with 909 deaths since March.