The ATP and WTA Tour organizers have every intention to keep hosting tournaments across various countries this year but Novak Djokovic has declared that the majority of tennis pros will be against continuing with the season should quarantine requirements remain the same.
The players who competed in the Australian Open had to isolate for a period of 14 days due to COVID-19, with several of them lamenting the lack of training time ahead of the tourney. Players took to practicing in their rooms, against the walls, and on standing bed mattresses. A number of them suffered injuries over the course of the event.
Italian ninth seed Matteo Berrettini was forced to pull out of his fourth-round match before even getting to the court while Spanish star Rafael Nadal suffered a back injury, with Britain’s Heather Watson and Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov experienced leg and back spasms. Britain’s No.1 woman Johanna Konta had to retire from her first-round contest with an abdominal injury.
Watson was among players who couldn’t leave their rooms for two weeks, having gotten placed in “hard quarantine” after landing in Melbourne. Dimitrov said he wasn’t even able to put his socks on ahead of his quarter-final on Tuesday and left the court with tear-filled eyes after losing to Russia’s Aslan Karatsev.
“This definitely is not good for players in terms of their wellbeing,” Djokovic was quoted as saying by BBC Sport. The Serbian also struggled with an abdominal problem, as did several other competitors.
“The physical wellbeing of players is a big question mark, and I think it needs addressing,” he added.
“Obviously it has something to do with these kinds of circumstances that we were in, coming into a Grand Slam and a tournament before the Grand Slam right after 14 days or 15 days of quarantine.
“What we are seeing is not normal. It’s not something we are used to. Top players are the ones that are fittest. It has been proven in the past that that’s the case.”
Given the ATP and WTA’s plans to hold events, Djokovic has urged the governing bodies to discuss possibly exempting players from more quarantine periods. Many countries still have strict travel restrictions in place – the likes of Europe, North America, and the Middle East are among them and will play host to tennis tournaments this year. The ATP Tour is also one of the most highly-anticipated events where the top online sportsbooks are concerned.
Djokovic, who formed a new union for male players in 2020, has also suggested that the use of bubble environments be looked into. The NBA pulled off a very successful isolation affair last year and was able to crown a champion. With teams having returned to their respective arenas – save the Toronto Raptors who have taken up abode in Tampa, Florida – a number of games have had to be postponed due to players contracting COVID-19 or coming into contact with persons who have.
“Talking to a lot of players, the majority of the players just don’t want to go ahead with the season if we are going to have to quarantine most of the tournaments,” Djokovic continued. “I’m waiting for some answers. I want to understand how our continuation of the season post-Australia is going to look like, because this definitely is not good for players in terms of their wellbeing.”
Alexander Zverev agrees with Djokovic, pointing out there’s really no need for traveling to different locations if spectators won’t be allowed.
“At the end of the day in Europe right now we can’t have spectators, so what difference does it really make where we play the tournament?” the German chimed in.
Last month, Australia’s Nick Kyrgios lashed out at Djokovic for requesting lighter COVID-19 protocols for the players participating in the Australian Open, branding him a “tool.” The players arrived in Australia on charter flights and were placed in quarantine immediately after landing. More than 70 of them were unable to train outside of their rooms and had to find other means.
Djokovic was able to rent his own living space for the U.S Open in 2020 but was not able to evade quarantine in Australia. He’d written to Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley with a number of demands, including reduced isolation periods and private living quarters with tennis courts.
This did not sit well with Kyrgios, who openly criticized the 17-time Grand Slam winner on social media.
“To suggest players should have shorter quarantine isn’t only ridiculous, it’s insulting to Australians that have had to endure it,” former Davis Cup player Sam Groth also wrote in criticism of Novak. “What did he think would happen? That [Victoria’s Premier] Dan Andrews would say, ‘Sure Novak, anything you want’? Spare me.”
Roger Federer opted to sit the tournament out altogether and it is believed it’s because he did not want to be away from his family for the length of the tournament, nor did he want them confined to a hotel room if they joined him in Australia.