MELBOURNE, Australia – Now, then, is when it could potentially get really complicated for this star-crossed Australian Open.
Upon his arrival in Potchefstroom, South Africa for a Challenger tournament this week, ATP Cup Team Greece member Michail Pervolarakis came up positive for COVID-19.
He laid the situation out on his Instagram Sunday night Melbourne time (Sunday afternoon South Africa time).
Putting aside Pervolarakis’s complaints about the accommodations – which are obviously a far cry from what he enjoyed in Melbourne as a participant in the ATP Cup – there are far more serious issues at stake.
It’s far too early to tell what is going to happen. But it’s not out of the realm of possibility that an obscure player from Greece ranked No. 463, who has never won a match at the ATP level, could take down the Australian Open.
No official word from the tournament Saturday night. You’d expect we’ll hear more on Sunday.
Pervolarakis was only in Australia at all because his countryman, Stefanos Tsitsipas, is a top-10 player. As Greece could field a second singles player in the top 500 (which Pervolarakis is, barely), Greece could bring an entire crew down to Australia. And Pervolarakis could earn a nice cheque for playing No. 2 singles.
Players ranked hundreds of spots higher than him, who didn’t qualify for the Australian Open in Doha or make it as a lucky loser, could not enter the country.
Pervolarakis’s only ATP experience has been at the ATP Cup the last two years. He has gone 0-for-5.
24-hour trip for Pervolarakis
After the ATP Cup, the squad stayed in town. And Tsitsipas’s crew was pretty expansive. At times there were as many as seven people with him back and forth to the practice courts (including coaching guru Patrick Mouratoglou).
Pervolarakis practiced with Tsitsipas.
According to the Herald Sun, Pervolarakis left Melbourne the night of Feb. 9 (Tuesday), the same day a worker at a café in Terminal 4 of the Melbourne tested positive for the virus. Although he wouldn’t have flown out of Terminal 4.
He would have had to have a negative test within 72 hours of departing for Johannesburg – with the shortest itinerary going through Doha on Qatar Airways.
The Herald Sun reports he had the test on Monday, and received a negative test result Tuesday.
Which, of course, does not necessarily mean he wasn’t infectious while in Melbourne.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Pervolarakis was practicing with Tsitsipas at Melbourne Park. Tsitsipas’s father and brother, along with Mouratoglou, were on court with him.
Challenger testing less intensive
At the Challenger level, the testing is not as rigorous as it is at ATP-level tournaments in countries where COVID is a major issue (we’re putting Australia aside for these purposes, given there’s almost no virus here).
The players are allowed to bring one person to Challengers. And those who didn’t compete in a similar event at the same venue this past week have to take the PCR test on arrival.
They must remain isolated in their hotel room until the results come in, which can take 24 hours. But the detail sheet for the tournament indicates players could have access to a practice court, although not the entire tournament precinct, in the interim.
After that, the singles and doubles players and guests are tested on Monday. And then again on Thursday.
The high-performance gym on site is not accessible to the players during the tournament in South Africa. Instead, there is a warmup and cool down area. But the tournament is not supplying resistance bands.
“NWU Isolation Facility Dennepark”
The video Pervolarakis took of his tiny room at the designated facility, the “NWU Isolation Facility”, indicates that it’s a shoe box.
The tournament site, NWU, is a university. So it looks like a pretty compact single dorm room (for a midget, judging by that chair).
As he outlined on his Instagram, there are other issues as well.
The tournament information that Pervolarakis and his “plus one” will be “under medical supervision for a minimum of 14 days with all meals served in room under strict Covid-19 protocol. Isolation will be in a single room and no visitors are allowed. The tournament will not cover the expense of this.”
The cutoff for this Challenger was inside the top 300. So that’s a long, expensive way to go and an expensive chance to take to play Challenger qualifying.
Close contacts must go to the same facility, isolate for 10 days, and then are allowed to leave without further testing. If those close contacts are asymptomatic through Day 7, they also can leave following a negative PCR test.
Close contacts to check?
Here’s the issue the Australian Open has – and one the Australian government will surely not let slide.
The Victorian government just issued a five-day “circuit-breaker” lockdown because of about 20 COVID-19 cases stemming from a quarantine hotel worker, and a worker at a cafe in Terminal 4 at Melbourne Airport.
(That’s the domestic terminal, so it’s hard to know if Pervolarakis went through there).
The lockdown began Friday at midnight, and is due to last five days at this point.
When some members of the tennis group that flew down to Melbourne on charter flights from various cities tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival, the entire flight on which they flew in had to go into hard quarantine for 14 days.
And remember, these were all people who had to have a negative test within 72 hours of their departure. So, in theory, they were “negative” on the flight.
The hard quarantine seriously compromised the ability of some dozens of players to train properly for the Australian Open.
Even if Pervolarakis tested negative on Monday, it is no guarantee he didn’t already have the virus.
Pervolarakis himself said he was asymptomatic.
If not on the flight, where did Pervolarakis catch it?
The trip to South Africa was a lengthy one. But it was only one day.
The notion that Pervolarakis made the journey – and then tested positive for the virus the next day – and that the calculation is that he caught the virus on that trip – is some tough math. It’s possible. But is it likely?
With Greece eliminated from the ATP Cup nearly a week prior and no tournaments to play, you’d have to assume the now-idle members of Team Greece (other than the elder Tsitsipas) got out and about in Melbourne.
To say this isn’t a concerning situation for all involved, after an eerily quiet day without fans at the Australian Open Saturday, is to understate the case.