Sandgren gets OK to fly to Australia despite COVID-19 result

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
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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.

Tennis star Kyrgios to contest Australian assault charge

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CANBERRA, Australia – Tennis star Nick Kyrgios was due to appear in an Australian court Friday to apply to have an assault charge stemming from events two years ago dismissed on mental health grounds.

His lawyer Michael Kukulies-Smith appeared in a court in Kyrgios’ hometown of Canberra in October and asked for an adjournment so forensic mental health reports could be prepared.

Magistrate Glenn Theakston adjourned the case until Friday, when lawyers for the 27-year-old Australian are expected to apply to have the charge dismissed under a section of the local crimes law.

Kyrgios, a Wimbledon finalist last year, is set to appear in court in person for the first time since he was charged by police by summons in July last year.

His hearing was listed to start at 2:15 p.m. local time (0315 GMT).

The law gives magistrates the power to dismiss a charge if they are satisfied an accused person is mentally impaired, and if dealing with an allegation in such a way would benefit the community and the defendant.

The common assault charge, which has a potential maximum sentence of two years in prison, relates to an incident in January 2021 that was reported to local police in December that year.

The charge reportedly relates to an incident involving his former girlfriend.

Kukulies-Smith told the court his client’s mental health history since 2015 made the application appropriate, citing a number of public statements made by Kyrgios.

In February last year, Kyrgios opened up about his performance at the 2019 Australian Open, saying what appeared to be a positive time in his life had been “one of my darkest periods.”

“I was lonely, depressed, negative, abusing alcohol, drugs, pushed away family and friends,” he wrote on Instagram. “I felt as if I couldn’t talk or trust anyone. This was a result of not opening up and refusing to lean on my loved ones and simply just push myself little by little to be positive.”

Kyrgios made further references to his mental health struggles during his runs to the final at Wimbledon and the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open.

After ending Daniil Medvedev’s U.S. Open title defense in September last year to reach the quarterfinals, Kyrgios expressed pride at lifting himself out of “some really tough situations, mentally” and “some really scary places” off the court.

Theakston questioned whether Kyrgios would need to appear in court for Friday’s hearing, but Kukulies-Smith said his client wanted to attend.

Kyrgios had a career setback last month when he withdrew from the Australian Open because of an injured left knee that required arthroscopic surgery.

He was the runner-up to Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon last year in singles and teamed with good friend Thanasi Kokkinakis to claim the men’s doubles championship at the 2022 Australian Open.

Kyrgios was considered the host country’s strongest chance to win a title at Melbourne Park last month before he had to pull out of the tournament. Djokovic went on to win the Australian Open singles championship for the 10th time.

Australian Open director: Novak Djokovic’s hamstring had 3-cm tear

Mike Frey-USA TODAY Sports
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MELBOURNE, Australia — Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said Novak Djokovic played at the Grand Slam event with a muscle tear of 3 centimeters – a little more than an inch – in his left hamstring along the way to winning the championship.

“He gets a bad rap, but at the end of the day, I don’t think anyone can question his athleticism. This guy, I did see, he had a 3-centimeter tear in his hammy,” Tiley said in an interview.

“The doctors are … going to tell you the truth,” Tiley said. “I think there was a lot of speculation of whether it was true or not. It’s hard to believe that someone can do what they do with those types of injuries. But he’s remarkable.”

Djokovic won the trophy at Melbourne Park by beating Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets for a record-extending 10th title there and record-tying 22nd Grand Slam trophy overall. Rafael Nadal is the only other man who has won that many majors.

The triumph also allowed Djokovic to return to No. 1 in the ATP rankings.

The 35-year-old from Serbia hurt his hamstring during a tune-up tournament in Adelaide ahead of the Australian Open. He wore a heavy bandage on his left thigh and was visited by trainers during matches in Week 1 in Melbourne.

He said he took “a lot” of painkiller pills and did various treatments to help the leg.

“Let me put it like this: I don’t say 100%, but 97% of the players, when you get results of the MRI, you go straight to the referee’s office and pull out of the tournament,” Djokovic’s coach, Goran Ivanisevic, said after the final. “But not him. … His brain is working different.”