Disarray as two test positive for virus on Australian Open plane

MELBOURNE (AFP) – A host of tennis players were barred from practising for a fortnight yesterday in a major setback to their Australian Open preparations after two people on a charter flight that brought them to Melbourne tested positive for COVID-19.

While those who failed the test were not players, all remaining passengers were ordered to stay in their hotel rooms for the entire 14-day mandatory quarantine period.

That means the 24 players on board will not be allowed out to practise and train for the five hours each day agreed to as part of their build-up to the opening Grand Slam of the year.

According to local media, former Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, 2017 United States (US) Open winner Sloane Stephens and Japan’s Kei Nishikori were among those on the plane, which departed from Los Angeles.

The positive tests came from a member of the flight crew and reportedly a coach.

Spain’s Rafael Nadal arrives at Adelaide Airport ahead of the Australian Open tennis championship. PHOTO: AP

“The aircrew member and the passenger have been interviewed and transferred to a health hotel as per normal processes for positive cases,” COVID-19 Victoria, the government body helping coordinate Tennis Australia’s quarantine arrangements, said in a statement.

“All remaining 66 passengers on the flight have been determined to be close contacts. Any players and support people will not be able to leave quarantine to attend training.”

Tournament organiser Craig Tiley said he was in touch with the players.

“We are communicating with everyone on this flight, and particularly the playing group whose conditions have now changed, to ensure their needs are being catered to as much as possible, and that they are fully appraised of the situation,” he said.

The world’s top players began arriving in Australia on Thursday for the delayed Grand Slam, which is due to start on February 8.

Most touched down in Melbourne, although the biggest names in the game, including Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams, flew into Adelaide.

All must undergo a 14-day quarantine, but are allowed out for five hours daily to train in strict bio-secure bubbles ahead of a host of warm-up tournaments, all in Melbourne, in the week leading up the Grand Slam.