Nearly 12,000 kilometers (7,500 miles) from Melbourne, the qualifying tournament has been completed for the Australian Open, with 16 men and 16 women set to join the singles main draw beginning Feb. 8.
The qualifiers join the group of players who’ll begin arriving Thursday on 15 charter flight and immediately go into a 14-day quarantine under strict regulations in Australia for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the protocols, all players had to to return a negative test before boarding their flights to Australia, and would be subjected to further testing on arrival and isolation until the results are received.
But there’s already been an exception, with American player Tennys Sandgren reportedly allowed on one of the Australia-bound flights despite recently testing positive for coronavirus.
Sandgren tested positive to COVID-19 on Monday, after originally testing positive in late November, and was initially barred from the flight containing international players out of Los Angeles.
However, he was then allowed to join the delayed flight. He posted on social media to say he wasn’t contagious.
“My two tests were less than 8 weeks apart. I was sick in November, totally healthy now,” the No. 50-ranked Sandgren tweeted. “There’s not a single documented case where I would be contagious at this point. Totally recovered!”
A quarterfinalist at Melbourne Park in 2018 and 2020, Sandgren was supported by Tennis Australia, who reportedly said they followed Victorian state government guidelines in allowing him on to the flight.
“Some people who have recovered from COVID-19 and who are non-infectious can continue to shed the virus for several months,” Tennis Australia said, according to Australian Associated Press. “Victorian Government public health experts assess each case based on additional detailed medical records to ensure they are not infectious before checking into the charter flights.”
The season’s first major has already been delayed by three weeks because of restrictions in place for the pandemic, and the men’s and women’s qualifying tournaments – in Doha, Qatar and in Dubai – were held outside of Australia for the first time.
The women qualifiers include two-time Australian Open and Roland Garros doubles champion Timea Babos of Hungary and British player Francesca Jones, who has a rare genetic condition.
Jones has ectrodactyly ectodermal dysplasia, which means she was born with three fingers and a thumb on each hand, three toes on her right foot and four toes on her left.
On the men’s side, the qualifiers include 17-year-old ATP newcomer of the year, Carlos Alcaraz of Spain.
Six women and six men will also travel to Australia as lucky losers and undergo mandatory quarantine like the rest of the international players, hoping to get a place in the main draw as cover for injuries or withdrawals. There are 104 direct entries based on rankings for the men’s and women’s singles main draw, plus wild-card entries and the qualifiers.
The 15 flights will be at no more than 25% capacity, and will arrive over a 36-hour period ending early Saturday.
Once a negative result has been returned, players can train within a strictly supervised environment for five-hours per day, and players and their teams will be tested every day during quarantine.
The Australian Open draw will be held on Feb. 4, four days ahead of the start of the main tournament, which ends Feb. 21 with the men’s singles final.
Novak Djokovic is the defending men’s champion and Sofia Kenin is the women’s defending champion.
Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams will be among a group of players involved in an exhibition event in Adelaide, South Australia state, on Jan. 29. All other tournaments will be in Melbourne, including the 12-team ATP Cup starting Feb. 1 and two WTA events in the week leading into the Australian Open.