As the ATP and WTA Tour prepare to finalize their early season schedules – soon? – the players have received a document outlining the long, loooooooong list of rules and restrictions for the upcoming Australian Open.
If there’s a takeaway, it’s that they will be navigating a maze of decisions and logistics before they even get on the plane to Australia.
Open Court has seen the document. And there are two main areas that might get complicated.
The first is the number of people the players can bring down with them. And the second is the group of people they’ll want to practice with.
Plus-2 – the rest on your own dime
With the Victorian government capping the number of players and teams allowed to be in the “special” quarantine at 1,000, there have been various permutations floated concerning the maximum number of team members the players can bring.
One earlier iteration last week had former champions allowed four extra people, top-10 singles players three, main-draw singles players two – and doubles players one apiece.
We crunched the numbers on that, presuming a certain number of the singles players would also be playing doubles. Factoring in the 10 former champions that could be in the draw, that total came out to a minimum of about 950.
The final version has all singles players (regardless of resumé or ranking) capped at two extra players each. Top-10 doubles players will now also be allowed two players.
Everyone else – the other doubles players, qualifiers, wild cards, the 12 lucky loser contestants and Aussies – will only be allowed one extra person eaach.
COVID police on charter flights
One issue Tennis Australia is trying to address is the potential consequences of someone on a flight testing positive for the virus – and the possibility that, through contact tracing, everyone on the flight could be considered a “close contact” and therefore have to hunker down on strict quarantine.
This is a possibility even on a regular commercial flight as well. Many airlines get in touch with passengers within a few rows of a positive case, if they’re made aware of it.
They are looking into setting up bio-zones on each charter flight, and having marshalls aboard to make sure everyone is masked up. But they’re also asking the players and coaches to be grownups – if possible, to isolate for 48 hours after a negative test and before getting on board. And, as well, making sure to follow all the protocols.
Can you just imagine if an entire planeload of tennis players (or two) ended up having to go into quarantine upon arrival? It would be literally disastrous.
Incentive to keep the team at home
Needless to say, the players at the top of the pyramid will not be happy with those limitations.
But there a couple of interesting wrinkles.
If a player chooses to bring less than their allotted maximum (and let’s face it, in most cases that would mean bringing one – or zero – people), they will get cash back from Tennis Australia. The cheque would be the equivalent of the amount the tournament would have spent flying, feeding and housing those people.
That’s about $7,000 AUD to NOT bring your trainer.
No doubt it will tempt some – who will not only save the cost of salary, but also put cash in their pocket.
At the same time, players who want to bring more people can make the request. But there’s no guarantee their request will be granted. And you know there is a pecking order there.
The players will have to pay that $7,000 themselves, for each extra person.
Meanwhile, the arrangements for physios and treatment during the quarantine still don’t appear to have been finalized with the Victorian government.
So decisions by players about what team members to choose have to be made without yet knowing exactly what kind of facilities (and which personnel) will be on site.
Cohort – the AO 2021 buzzword
The other wrinkle in the plan is the very strict regulations around whom the players can practice with.
For the first week of the modified quarantine, the players must choose one “cohort”. Each can only bring one team member per day on site. So: four on site. But not always the same four. It could be a group six people – or more, if the top guns bring additional staff.
For the second week, two “cohorts” can join forces. That means a total of four players who can alternate practicing with each other, and possibly a group of as many as 12 people.
All those people are intimately linked for the duration of the quarantine. Because of there’s a positive test among them – they’re all affected.
But the choosing of one’s cohort has challenges. All the members of a team have to arrive together, or at least begin quarantine on the same day. And the chosen cohort and his or her team also have to have their quarantine begin on the same day.
And they also have to be allocated to the same quarantine hotel. Which Tennis Australia will coordinate.
By the time the “expanded cohort” system kicks in, those extra cohorts ALSO will have to stay at the same hotel.
The cohorts must take official transport only with each other. Any extra team member who is not going on site that day must stay in their room.
The logistics, simply put, are simply daunting.
Player WhatsApps blowing up
Meanwhile, the players will have to get in touch – and in a big hurry.
The practice partners have to be selected through the tournament’s travel website. And if players don’t choose one themselves, one will be randomly assigned.
You know Djokovic’s phone is blowing up right now. And so, probably, is the phone of everyone’s favorite practice partner, Diego Schwartzman.
The lefties might not have much fun. They are very much in demand when a player is preparing to face one. But the prospect of practicing only with a lefty, for a whole week, might be less appealing.
This system doesn’t take into account the players who will only know if they’ve qualified shortly before they get on a plane to Australia. It doesn’t take into account the wild cards, who may not know they’re wild cards yet.
It doesn’t take into account last-minute injuries. Or last-minute decisions to opt not to play and deal with all this stuff.
And the women, especially, spend a lot less time practicing with other women; they tend to prefer training with their coach/hitting partner.
(In answer to an earlier query from players, they were told they couldn’t split the two-hour on-court time allotment between a practice opponent and their coach. It didn’t go over well. But the sheer number of players, and the limitations on the number of course, are already a challenge. But an update Wednesday specified that players could choose to hit with either another player or a team member).
All of this has potential to be a real hotbed of late switches (and hurt feelings). And people waiting for a better offer before they commit. Or reneging on someone if a better offer DOES come along.
It all harkens back to standing on the playground in primary school, hoping you won’t be the last one picked for dodgeball.