Tennis players thrust into hotel quarantine have been forced to get creative to practice for the Australian Open from their rooms.
Pablo Cuevas is one of 47 competitors ordered into mandatory 14 day isolation after positive coronavirus cases were identified on two separate charter flights into Australia last week.
Four infections have now been linked to flights from the US and Abu Dhabi, forcing players into hard quarantine, forbidden from joining others who can train outside for up to five hours a day.
But the Uruguayan world No. 68 is doing his best not let the circumstances impede his preparation for the annual Grand Slam tournament.
Pablo Cuevas (pictured with his wife and children) is one of 47 tennis players that have been placed into hard quarantine after positive coronavirus cases were identified on two separate charter flights into Melbourne
The 35-year-old filed himself whacking a ball against a mattress leaning against his hotel room’s wall to practice his single-hand backhands.
Cuevas posted the video of his training session to Instagram on Sunday with the caption ‘yes, I’m going crazy.’
The clip shows the sportsman jumping onto his bed and rocking his feet to edge the mattress towards the wall.
‘They told me that the best waves are here in Australia,’ he said in Spanish.
He then pulls out his racket and smacks a ball against the backboard substitute eight times before yelling ‘finita’, Spanish for ‘finished’.
Cuevas arrived on a flight from Los Angeles on Friday morning carrying 24 tennis players, including two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, three-time grand slam winner Angelique Kerber and 2019 US Open title holder Bianca Andreescu.
An crew member and a non-playing participant later tested positive, with all travellers aboard the aircraft subsequently placed into hard quarantine.
But the situation quickly escalated, with Tennis Australia on Saturday evening confirming another positive Covid-19 test from a passenger on a charter flight into Melbourne from Abu Dhabi.
TA said there were 64 passengers on board, including 23 players, meaning 47 competitors would be out of action for at least a fortnight until they are medically cleared.
The Uruguayan world No.68 has been practicing his single-hand backhands in his hotel room (pictured) by using his mattress as a hitting board
‘Any players and support people will not be able to leave quarantine to attend training,’ the Victorian government’s Covid-19 Quarantine Victoria body confirmed.
‘Players are being supported to access equipment for their hotel rooms to help them maintain their fitness during this time.’
A member of the broadcast team travelling from Los Angeles was on Sunday announced as a fourth person to test positive to Covid-19 from Australian Open charter flights.
All international players were originally given an exemption to train for up to five hours a day.
However, the test results forced the two flights affected into stricter quarantine under Victorian Government orders, prompting complaints of unfair advantage for the others.
The coach of 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu – Sylvain Bruneau – confirmed he was one of the four cases.
Training was put on hold for all quarantined players pending final test results, although all players and their training partners have been cleared of Covid-19.
Covid-19 Quarantine Victoria Commissioner Emma Cassar confirmed the new case on Sunday and said police presence was increased at the Open hotels.
Cassar said that there were cases of ‘challenging behaviour’ from some confined players and support staff.
She cited two cases when they opened their doors to have a conversation or shout down the hallway.
‘There is zero tolerance for breaches,’ she said.
Tennis players, coaches and officials arrive at a hotel in Melbourne on Friday for 14-day quarantine
‘I had a conversation with Victoria Police to ensure we are increasing our compliance and enforcement efforts.
‘It’s low level but dangerous acts that we just can’t tolerate.’
Cassar warned they could be fined up to $20,000 or repeat offenders transferred to the complex care hotel where they have a police officer stationed outside their door.
Some players in hard lockdown are calling for the February 8 Australian Open start date to be pushed back to ensure they have adequate time to prepare.
But Australian Open boss Craig Tiley ruled out another date change.
‘We are planning on February the eighth… and our intention is to continue with those dates,’ Tiley told the Today show.
He said they would consider adjusting the schedule for the lead-in ATP and WTA tournaments which are due to start in Melbourne on January 31 and February 1.
Players claimed they were told that only those in close contact with a positive case would have to go into hard quarantine, and not all passengers on the flight.
Tiley said players were warned it was one scenario but that the tournament was at the mercy of the Victorian Government.
‘The determination of who was and who wasn’t a close contact was going to be entirely up to the health department, and they’re doing what they is necessary in order to keep our community safe,’ he said.
Victoria Azarenka is one of almost 50 tennis players in hard lockdown. She is pictured during her flight to Australia this week
‘We never knew what the situation or decision would be coming in and now we have to manage an environment over the next 14 days.’
Tiley said the recent threat of the UK strain of the virus had changed the situation but insisted players knew there was a risk of isolation.
A number of players have taken to social media to express their frustration at being stuck in a hotel room and not being able to properly prepare for the year’s first major.
Swiss world No. 12 Belinda Bencic insisted on Twitter that the quarantine rules were changed for players on arrival.
‘We made our decision to come here from rules that were sent to us. Then we arrived and received an information/rule book with more/new rules that we did not know about,’ Bencic tweeted.
‘We are not complaining (about being) in quarantine. We are complaining because of unequal practice/playing conditions before quite important tournaments.’
Romania’s Sorana Cirstea said she wouldn’t have come if she’d known the entire plane-load of travellers would be put into isolation because of a positive test.
‘If they would have told us this rule before, I would not play in Australia. I would have stayed home,’ the world No.71 tweeted.
‘They told us we would fly at 20 per cent capacity, in sections, and we would be a close contact only if my team or cohort tests positive.’
She also complained that she now wanted to return home but wasn’t allowed.
However Artem Sitak, the men’s doubles world No.78 disputed the claims and said Tennis Australia told players of the risks in a conference call about a month ago.
Australian Bio Security staff are seen about to enter Flight EY460 carrying tennis players and their support teams participating at the Australian Open in Melbourne on Thursday
He said not many players were on the call, when TA told them that the health authorities would make the final decision about who would go into lockdown in the event of a positive test.
Former Australian player turned coach and commentator Rennae Stubbs had little sympathy for the players, who would earn $100,000 even if they lost in the first round.
‘I have opinions on these tennis players complaining about the quarantine situation here in OZ & for the Australian Open & they’re NOT going to want to hear it from me,’ Stubbs tweeted.
‘Its got something to do with a minimum of $100,000, free flights, food & lots more, want to talk @ me kids?’
As well as lockdown, some players have been slamming the hotel food while Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva saying she’s repeatedly asked to change rooms due to a mouse in hers.
The players are getting little sympathy from many Australians, with thousands of compatriots unable to travel home while many Victorians are currently locked out of the state.
The players will pocket a minimum $100,000 if they take part on the Australian Open main draw.