An Australian Open testing blitz has revealed no new coronavirus cases, organisers said Friday, putting preparations for the Grand Slam tournament back on track after a Covid scare. Planning for the year’s opening tennis major was thrown into disarray when a worker at one of the designated tournament hotels became infected with the virus. Some 507 players and officials were ordered to take tests and isolate until they received their result, with six warm-up tournaments suspended on Thursday. But they were all cleared on Friday as the action resumed at Melbourne Park.
“All tests conducted on AO (Australian Open) quarantine participants yesterday have returned negative results,” said a tweet on the tournament’s official Twitter account.
The Australian Open’s rocky build-up has underscored the difficulties of international sport during the pandemic, as Olympics organisers wrestle with preparations for the Tokyo Games which start in July.
State authorities and the Australian public are extremely wary of coronavirus cases after Melbourne spent four months in lockdown until late October.
Victoria state had gone 28 days without a locally acquired infection before the latest case, which prompted a tightening of restrictions around wearing masks.
Despite the scare, Australian Open boss Craig Tiley said he was confident fans would still be able to attend matches this week and at the Australian Open, which starts on Monday.
“Spectators will continue to be allowed in the site, and we are still selling tickets,” he said Friday.
“The site will be an extremely safe place. There’s health checks, contact tracing set up, divided into zones, physical distancing.
“At this point there’s no change to our position on crowds.”
Daily crowds of between 25,000 and 30,000 are allowed at the Australian Open, equating to about half the attendance of last year.
Grand Slam turmoil
The Australian Open was originally due to start on January 18, but the country’s strict quarantine rules forced Tennis Australia and the Victorian state government into a rethink.
After speculation that it might be delayed until March, the tournament was eventually moved back three weeks to February 8.
More than 1,000 players, coaches and officials finally flew into largely virus-free Australia last month, sparking complaints from some of them about the conditions they were forced to endure during their lockdown.
While most players were allowed out to train for five-hour blocks, 72 were confined to their hotel rooms 24 hours a day after eight positive Covid-19 cases were detected on the charter flights. Spain’s Paula Badosa was the only player among them.
Play began an hour early Friday with WTA clashes reduced to two sets and a super tiebreaker instead of their usual three sets to ease the backlog after Thursday’s suspension.
Serena Williams and world number ones Ashleigh Barty and Novak Djokovic were among Friday’s winners, but Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin crashed out.
The Australian Open will be the third Grand Slam tournament held during the pandemic, after last year’s Wimbledon was cancelled, the French Open was delayed and the US Open took place behind closed doors.
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