Victoria Azarenka added a voice of reason to the clamour surrounding the 72 players in hard lockdown in Melbourne on Tuesday, asking everyone to to show patience amid criticism of the quarantine conditions.
I would like to ask all my colleagues for cooperation, understanding and empathy for the local community that has been going through a lot of very demanding restrictions that they did not choose, but were forced to follow. Victoria Azarenka
Under government rules, all players are required to quarantine for 14 days ahead of the Australian Open, but some players are going through a stricter regime after having been in close contact with passengers on their flights who tested positive for COVID on arrival, and must stay in their rooms at all times without the 5 hour daily training window.
Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champion, published an open letter on her Twitter account in which she urged ‘co-operation, understanding and empathy’ and to be respectful of what the Victorian community had gone through during the coronavirus pandemic.
State capital Melbourne had one of the world’s longest lockdowns, with restrictions in place for 139 days before they ended last October.
Azarenka acknowledged that being in a 14-day quarantine was ‘very tough to accept in terms of all the work that everyone has been putting in during their off-season’.
“I would like to ask all my colleagues for cooperation, understanding and empathy for the local community that has been going through a lot of very demanding restrictions that they did not choose, but were forced to follow,” she tweeted.
“I would like to ask to be sensitive as well to the people who lost their jobs and loved ones during this horrible time for all of us around the world.
“I would like to ask all of us to have respect for people who work tirelessly to try to make our lives easier.”
Australian Open Tournament Director Craig Tiley replied, thanking her for her support and saying her ‘words are much appreciated’.
“It means a lot to us,” Tiley tweeted.
Players from around the world have been expressing their frustration at the COVID restrictions they are facing in Australia, with one rule making all the difference from other major tournaments.
Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut has likened quarantine conditions to being in prison, while men’s World No 1 Novak Djokovic, who is quarantining in Adelaide, has been widely criticised for making a list of suggestions to help those players who are under the strictest lockdown rules.
“It’s the same [as being in prison], but with WiFi,” men’s World No 13 Bautista Agut said in an interview with Israeli broadcaster Sport5.
“These people has [sic] no idea about tennis, about practice courts, has no idea about anything so it’s a complete disaster.”
Bautista Agut made it clear he is not blaming Tennis Australia for the conditions, but just the government.
“You can work in the room but it’s not the same,” he said. “I feel very, very tight and I cannot imagine staying two weeks like this.”
His remarks alongside many others tweeted by players have drawn criticism and even anger from locals who endured far longer restrictions than 14 days.
Czech Barbora Strycova, a Wimbledon semi-finalist in 2019, however, supported the strict health protocols players were faced with during their quarantine period.
“I’m exercising twice a day, reading some books, being on social [media] and watching TV,” she told SEN Breakfast. “I can’t really complain. I really have to go through it and try to be as positive as I can be.”
Azarenka’s bid to ease the tensions asks for everybody to look at the wider picture through her thoughtful letter..
“Dear players, coaches, entourage and Australian community, I would like to take a moment and address some of my colleagues as well as the media around the world.
“This has been a very difficult time for a lot of us that did not expect to end up in the situation we are in today, myself included.
“To be in a 14 day hard quarantine is very tough to accept in terms of all the work everyone has been putting in during their off-season – to be prepared for playing our first Grand Slam of the year. I understand all the frustration and feeling of unfairness that has been coming and it is overwhelming.
“We have a global pandemic, nobody has a clear playbook of how to operate at full capacity and without a glitch, we all have seen it last year. Sometimes things happen and we need to accept, adapt and keep moving,” she wrote.
Amid the frustration, players have come under fire from the Melbourne public over how a minority of them have reacted to the situation.
“I would like to ask the media to please have consciousness on the impact and influence you bring to this situation and the community,” she continued in her letter.
“I would like for the people in the community to know and understand that we have it as our top priority to ensure the health safety of all the people.
“Lastly, I would like for us to please try to support each other as much as someone can or is willing to.
“Things are always easier when you have a compassionate environment and work together.
“Once again thank you everyone for their efforts as we continue to navigate through these next few days and weeks.
“Thank you. Vika”
Over the weekend Novak Djokovic sent a letter to Craig Tiley in which he pleaded for changes to the quarantine rules but his requests were dismissed by local health officials.
As Azarenka tried to calm the storm, it was confirmed on Tuesday that two more unnamed players and a third person associated with the tournament have tested positive for COVID-19 – a woman in her 20s and two men in their 30s.
“This does not change broader assessment of the player group in hotel quarantine,” a public health statement said.
Tiley told the Nine Network on Tuesday:”The vast majority [of players], most of them have been fantastic and been supportive.
“[They] know that this is the contribution that they have to make in order to get the privilege of when they do come out to compete for A$80m [£45.4m] in prize money.
“So we will turn the corner on those few that don’t have the right approach to this. But the rest have been really good.”
Tiley, however, conceded that the 72 players in hard quarantine were at a disadvantage to rivals who arrived on other flights and can train up to 5 hours a day.
“Yes, it’s not an even playing field as far as preparation goes, but we’re going to play our part to try to even it up as much as possible,” he added
Former French Open champion Albert Costa said it was not easy for the players to be stuck in their rooms ahead of a major but they have no option but to stay strong and get through it.
“I think that at least the Australian Open are making the effort to give the opportunity to the players to compete,” Spaniard Costa, who is the tournament director for the Davis Cup Finals, said.
“They are doing everything for the players, they are doing it in good faith and the players, I think, understand that.
“If it was me, for sure I would be playing there.”