Tennys Sandgren forced an early clarification of the COVID-19 rules as the first of 15 charter flights began flying Down Under to deliver players for the Australian Open.
The two-time Australian Open quarterfinalist was given a special clearance to board one of the flights from Los Angeles to Melbourne despite testing positive to COVID-19 in November and again on Monday.
The first of about 1,200 players, coaches, entourage and officials landed late Thursday. The players were met by airport staff and biosecurity officials wearing personal protective equipment including masks and face shields, before being taken to hotel quarantine.
Under tournament protocols agreed with Australian government authorities, 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 daily during a 14-day period of quarantine.
The No. 50-ranked Sandgren received an exemption after Australian health officials assessed his case history.
The American player posted on social media to say he wasn’t contagious and was allowed to join a delayed flight.
“My two tests were less than 8 weeks apart. I was sick in November, totally healthy now,” Sandgren tweeted. “There’s not a single documented case where I would be contagious at this point. Totally recovered!”
The Australian newspaper published an online story headlined “US tennis ace sparks Aus Open virus worry.”
Tennis Australia moved to clarify the situation in a statement Thursday that outlined players who’ve previously tested positive to COVID-19 were “required to provide additional and highly detailed medical information as proof they are a recovered case and no longer infectious or a risk to the community.”
Tennis Australia added: “In the case of Tennys Sandgren, who has self-disclosed that he previously tested positive in late November, his medical file had to be reviewed by Victorian (state government) health authorities. Upon completion of that review he was cleared to fly.”
The Australian Open has already been delayed three weeks because restrictions in place for the COVID-19 pandemic, and is set to open on Feb. 8.
On Wednesday, nearly 12,000 kilometers (7,500 miles) from Melbourne, the qualifying tournament was completed for the tournament, with 16 men and 16 women set to join the singles main draw.
Due to the Australian restrictions, 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.