Tennis players go wild: Serena heads to zoo, Djokovic barefoot as…January 29, 2021
Freedom feels ace! Australian Open tennis stars celebrate finishing quarantine, with Serena Williams taking her girl to the zoo, Djokovic playing in the park and Naomi Osaka posing for selfies with fans
- Australian Open players and officials had to quarantine for 14 days after landing in largely virus-free country
- Big names such as Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic were holed up in Adelaide, with others in Melbourne
- Most were allowed five hours’ training a day, but others had stricter rules after positive cases on their flights
Australian Open tennis stars celebrated the end their contentious two-week quarantine today with Serena Williams taking her daughter to the zoo and Naomi Osaka taking selfies with fans on their first day of freedom.
Novak Djokovic played with an Australian Rules ball in a park in Adelaide, where exhibition games were taking place today including a two-set contest between Williams and Osaka in front of a packed crowd.
More than 1,000 players, coaches and officials were holed up for 14 days of isolation after jetting into the largely coronavirus-free country, with most allowed out for five hours of daily supervised training.
But 72 players were confined to their hotel rooms 24/7 after virus cases emerged on their flights over, forcing them to improvise training methods indoors – leading to a mini-rebellion spearheaded by Djokovic which attracted little sympathy from Australians.
Djokovic was among a select group including Williams, Osaka and Rafael Nadal who served their time in Adelaide rather than Melbourne ahead of today’s exhibition matches in South Australia.
Seven-time Australian Open winner Williams, who needs one more Grand Slam title to equal Margaret Court’s record of 24, spent her two weeks indoors with her three-year-old daughter Olympia
‘I’m so glad the quarantine is over because to be in a room with a three-year-old and being her best friend is definitely difficult, especially after training and working out and then it’s like, oh my gosh, it never ends,’ she said.
Celebration: Serena Williams enjoys the taste of freedom with her husband Alexis Ohanian and three-year-old daughter Olympia, with whom she quarantined during the two weeks of compulsory isolation in Adelaide
World no 1 Novak Djokovic plays with an Australian Rules ball in an Adelaide park today after finishing his two-week isolation
World no 3 Naomi Osaki takes a selfie with a fan after finishing her quarantine in Adelaide, where she was among the select group of players who isolated outside Melbourne
Rafael Nadal, who is hoping to surpass the injured Roger Federer by winning a 21st Grand Slam title at next month’s tournament, speaks to the media in Adelaide today
Williams said she had promised her daughter that once quarantine was over they would go to the zoo to see Australia’s famous koalas and kangaroos.
‘We had a calendar in our room and every day we marked an X on the days that went by and a big circle on the quarantine ending day, she said. ‘It was fun… honestly I wouldn’t trade anything for spending hours with her.’
She later played her first match of the season, with her daughter among the packed crowd at Memorial Drive to watch her mother beat Osaka 6-2, 2-6 (10-7).
‘I haven’t seen people in – it feels like forever,’ Osaka told the crowd.
Djokovic only played one of his two scheduled sets against Jannik Sinner due to a large blister on his right hand, winning 6-3 in his first competitive game of the year.
‘We didn’t play in front of this big a crowd in 12 months so this is something very special,’ he said, having earlier opted for a quiet walk to celebrate finishing quarantine.
‘You know, just putting bare feet on the ground, just doing something that I didn’t have a chance to do so, just having the space I think that’s what we all kind of missed,’ the 17-time Grand Slam winner said.
Spanish great Nadal, who is aiming for a record-breaking 21st Slam title in Melbourne to move him past the injured Roger Federer, plays third-ranked Dominic Thiem in his exhibition clash.
He said it had been difficult to think about tennis for much of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, but added: ‘Here we are, starting another year… I’m excited to be back.’
Australia’s world number one Ashleigh Barty was due to face second-ranked Simona Halep later.
Popular: Djokovic walks among fans – one of whom asked him to sign a tennis ball – ahead of warm-up matches in Adelaide
Packed crowd: Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams at an exhibition match in Adelaide – in one of the few countries where fans can still watch sports more or less as normal
Osaka takes a selfie with a fan after losing to Serena Williams in a tiebreak after a two-set exhibition match in Adelaide today
All smiles: World no 1 Novak Djokovic, who led a rebellion about players’ quarantine conditions that attracted little sympathy from Australians, was among those who finished his quarantine in Adelaide today
The big names isolating in Adelaide also included Romania’s Simona Halep (left), Austria’s Dominic Thiem (second left) and Italy’s Jannik Sinner (centre) in addition to Williams, Djokovic, Nadal and Osaka
Djokovic had a crowd of fans and camera operators with him as he crossed a road with an Aussie Rules ball under his arm
Romania’s world number two Simona Halep opens a car door after leaving her quarantine in Adelaide on Friday
A group of players led by Dominic Thiem, Jannik Sinner and Simona Halep arrive at a media event ahead of warm-up matches
Naomi Osaka leaves quarantine today with one fan already offering her a pen to sign a novelty tennis ball
Aggressive restrictions on incoming travel have helped keep the coronavirus at bay in Australia, making it one of the few countries that is still able to have fans at sports events.
With thousands of Australians stranded abroad, the players’ arrival prompted some disquiet among the public, especially when some complained about their quarantine.
Some players claimed they had never been told that the two-week confinement was a possibility, while others complained about the food at their hotels.
Djokovic’s reported list of demands for the 72 confined players included a shorter quarantine period, permission for players to visit their coaches, and access to courts where they could train for the tournament.
But state premier Daniel Andrews said authorities would not bend the rules, telling the players that ‘there’s no special treatment here… because the virus doesn’t treat you specially, so neither do we.’
While Djokovic has been able to train in Adelaide, the 72 players confined in Melbourne were stuck in their hotel rooms 24 hours a day, after eight positive Covid-19 cases were detected on their charter flights to Australia.
They and others in Melbourne also began tasting freedom on Friday but persistent rain greeted them rather than the sunshine in Adelaide.
Six ATP and WTA tournaments will take place at Melbourne Park next week before the Australian Open, delayed three weeks over coronavirus complications, starts on February 8.
Melbourne suffered a major resurgence of the virus during the Australian winter, but has since beaten it back, and Australia now sees only a handful of local cases a day.
While big names such as Williams and Djokovic enjoyed the sunshine in Adelaide, it was a wet affair in Melbourne where other players including the 72 who were in 24/7 quarantine also got out of isolation today
Djokovic and his fellow Serbian player Filip Krajinovic received souvenirs during the ‘Day at the Drive’ exhibition matches
Freedom: Serena Williams enjoys the Adelaide sunshine today after spending two weeks indoors with her three-year-old daughter, with whom she counted down the days until they could go to the zoo to see kangaroos and koalas
Djokovic, Nadal and Osaka look on from the waterside ahead of Friday’s exhibition event in Adelaide
Djokovic waves from the balcony where he had been staying for two weeks, although like most of the arrivals he was allowed out for five hours a day to train for the tournament
During the 24/7 isolation for some players in Melbourne, Britain’s Heather Watson, was among those to improvise ways to keep fit, in this case by filming herself taking a three-mile run with hundreds of lengths of her own hotel room
Greek player Maria Sakkari also had to resort to hotel room exercise, passing the time with some squats on a gym mat
Australian police had been guarding the M Suites hotel in Adelaide where players including Djokovic were quarantining
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