72 players in lockdown after virus cases on flights

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The number of players in hard quarantine swelled to 72 ahead of the Australian Open after a fifth positive coronavirus test was returned from the charter flights bringing players, coaches, officials and media to Melbourne for the season-opening tennis major.

That means they won’t be allowed to leave their hotel rooms or practice for 14 days, creating a two-speed preparation period for the tournament. Other players in less rigorous quarantine will be allowed to practice for five hours daily.

Australian Open organizers confirmed late Sunday that the latest case involved a passenger on the flight from Doha, Qatar to Melbourne who was not a member of the playing contingent, But all 58 passengers, including the 25 players, now cannot leave their hotel rooms for 14 days.

There were already 47 players, including Grand Slam winners, in hard quarantine after three positive tests were returned from a charter flight that arrived from Los Angeles and one from a flight that departed Abu Dhabi.

Some players have expressed anger at being classified as close contacts merely for being on board those flights with people who later tested positive. That classification has forced them into a harsher isolation than the broader group of players.

But local government, tennis and health authorities have said all players were warned of the risks in advance.

“There’s been a bit of chatter from a number of players about the rules – well, the rules apply to them as they apply to everybody else, and they were all briefed on that before they came and that was a condition on which they came,” Victoria state premier Daniel Andrews told a news conference Monday. “There’s no special treatment here … because a virus doesn’t treat you specially.”

Responding to reports that eight-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic had proposed a list of ideas to change the quarantine conditions for players, Andrews said: “People are free to provide lists of demands but the answer is no.”

Players have been warned that breaching of the rules could result in heavy fines or being moved to a more secure quarantine complex with police stationed at their doors.

Victoria state’s COVID-19 quarantine commissioner Emma Cassar told a news conference Sunday that some people were “testing” or challenging the quarantine procedures, but there’d been “zero tolerance for that behavior.”

“This is designed to make people safe,” Cassar, who is also in charge of the state’s prisons, said. “We make no apologies for that.”

The first three positive tests were announced Saturday and the next two on Sunday. All five cases had tested negative before boarding their flights to Australia. All have now been transferred to a health hotel.

Among them is Sylvain Bruneau, who coaches 2019 U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu. He said he was on the flight from Abu Dhabi and had tested positive.

So far, no players have returned a positive test since landing in Australia.

Australian Open organizers said 17 charters flights from seven international destinations brought up to 1,200 people to Australia for the tennis, all arriving within a 36-hour period up to Saturday morning. The Australian Open starts Feb. 8 following a week of warmup tournaments at Melbourne Park and the ATP Cup.

Several players, including Sorana Cirstea of Romania, Belinda Bencic of Switzerland and Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan complained in social media posts that the rules seemed to have changed between what they saw before traveling to Australia and what was being imposed in Melbourne.

Cirstea posted on Twitter: “If they would have told us this rule before I would not play Australia … I would have stayed home. They told us we would fly at 20% capacity, in sections and we would be a close contact ONLY if my team or cohort tests positive.”

But Victoria’s quarantine commissioner rejected those claims and explained why.

“If you’re on a plane 16-24 hours, with air that circulates throughout the plane, you are a close contact,” Cassar said. “This was made very clear and nothing has changed.”

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said organizers and players were forewarned there’d be a “significant risk.”

“Now we have to manage an environment over the next 14 days for those who won’t be able to practice,” Tiley said. “It’s a tough situation. We’ve got to do whatever we can to make it as fair as possible for those players that are in lockdown.”

Being unable to leave their hotel rooms would mean the only workouts they’re able to have would be on exercise equipment left in the rooms of all 72 players in lockdown. Some have posted on social media to show their makeshift training methods, including hitting tennis balls against the walls.

Any players not in the hard lockdown will be allowed to train under strict conditions and with supervision. Some players were allowed to start Monday.

Tiley said there were no plans to delay the Australian Open any further – it’s already starting three weeks later than usual – although organizers were reviewing the schedule for the warmup tournaments starting Feb. 1 to find ways to make it easier for those players in strict quarantine to prepare.

Australia’s international borders are basically closed to travelers, although there are exemptions in special circumstances and all arrivals must do mandatory quarantine. Each of Australia’s states and territories has its own border and travel restrictions, and those can change on very short notice.

Victoria state, which has as its capital Melbourne, accounted for 810 of Australia’s 909 deaths from COVID-19, most of those during a deadly second wave three months ago which resulted in curfews and lockdowns for the city.

Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams are among a group of players involved in an exhibition event in Adelaide, South Australia state, on Jan. 29. Those players flew straight to Adelaide to begin their hotel quarantine period. So far, there’s been no COVID-19 cases reported from the quarantine in Adelaide.

Nakashima takes first ATP Tour title at San Diego

San Diego Open - Finals
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SAN DIEGO – Brandon Nakashima earned his first ATP Tour victory in his hometown, beating friend and fellow Southern Californian Marcos Giron 6-4, 6-4 in the San Diego Open final.

“It’s super-special, something you dream of, but to have it happen in my hometown with all my friends and family here, it’s a moment I’ll never forget,” said Nakashima, who had two previous finals appearances. “I hope there are many more moments like this to come.”

Nakashima, a 21-year-old who grew up in San Diego and trained extensively at the event’s site as a junior, clinched the opening set in only 30 minutes. The second set, filled with lengthy rallies, took nearly an hour.

Giron, the No. 5 seed and former NCAA title winner from UCLA, wasn’t able to fend off Nakashima’s persistent ground strokes and well-placed serves. Nakashima had eight aces, six in the first set.

Serving at 5-4 in the second set, Nakashima tallied the match’s deciding two points when Giron pushed an easy volley into the net, followed by Nakashima’s second-serve ace.

He earned $93,090, about half of what received for reaching the third round of the U.S. Open in early September.

Nakashima, who was ranked No. 69 on the ATP Tour, moved up to 48, his highest ranking in nearly three years on tour. Despite the loss, Giron moved up to 53 from 58.

Not only was the singles title claimed by an American, the doubles title also taken by an American duo as the second-seeded pair of Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow defeated Australians Jason Kubler and Luke Saville 7-6 (5), 6-2.

The $612,00 event was held at Barnes Tennis Center, which next hosts the $757,900 WTA 500 San Diego Open, Oct. 8-16. That will feature 16 of the world’s top-ranked 20 women pros, led by No. 1 Iga Swiatek.

Frances Tiafoe lifts Team World to 1st Laver Cup win

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LONDON — The last to arrive, befitting his reputation in the locker room, Frances Tiafoe strutted into the post-match news conference after clinching Team World’s Laver Cup victory over Roger Federer’s star-studded Team Europe and shouted, “Champs are here!”

Then the 24-year-old from Maryland joined his teammates at the table where the silver trophy was resting Sunday night, put down a bottle of water, pulled a Budweiser out of his red jacket and smiled that wide smile of his.

Performing with the same infectious showmanship and crunch-time success he displayed en route to his first Grand Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open earlier this month, Tiafoe staved off four match points and came back to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 1-6, 7-6 (11), 10-8, giving Team World its first triumph in five editions of an event founded by Federer’s management company.

“I don’t like losing,” said Federer, a 20-time major champion whose final match before retirement was a loss alongside Rafael Nadal in doubles against Tiafoe and Jack Sock on Friday night. “It’s not fun. It just leaves not the best taste.”

When Tsitsipas put a forehand into the net to end Sunday’s contest – and the three-day competition – Tiafoe dropped his racket and fell to his back on the court, where teammates piled atop him. After getting on his feet, Tiafoe cupped a hand to his ear, asking spectators for more noise, then pointed to his chest and yelled, “I’m him! I’m him!”

“When it becomes a circus out here, and I’m just using the crowd and acting like a little kid and having a bunch of reactions … I end up playing really well and I start building momentum off it,” Tiafoe said. “I’m able to play and function in that better than my opponents, it seems.”

Using the nickname other players gave Tiafoe to reflect the way he embraces big moments, Team World captain John McEnroe said: “Frances is `Prime Time.’ He loves this stuff.”

McEnroe had been 0-4 while leading his squad against his former playing rival, Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg; both indicated they would be back for the 2023 Laver Cup in Vancouver, but that might be their last go-round.

This one served as a celebration of Federer and the 41-year-old Swiss star’s career.

Tiafoe responded with a quip when asked whether he might owe Federer some form of “I’m sorry” for beating him in his finale or for defeating his team, which also included Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for a total of 66 major singles titles. That, incidentally, is 66 more than Team World, a collection of 20-somethings (Sock turned 30 on Saturday).

“”I’m not going to apologize to him. He’s got a lot to apologize for after the last 24 years – after beating everybody on the tour,” said Tiafoe, who went 0-3 against Federer in singles head-to-head. “I will say thank you for having me in this amazing event, what he’s done for the game. He’s a class act. Happy to know him, happy to call him a friend, happy to call him a colleague, and best wishes in his second act. But I will not apologize.”

Team Europe entered Sunday at O2 Arena with an 8-4 lead; the first team to 13 points would win.

Each match on Day 3 was worth three points, and Team World went ahead thanks to a pair of victories by Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 22-year-old from Canada. He beat Djokovic 6-3, 7-6 (3), after partnering with Sock to edge Murray and Matteo Berrettini 2-6, 6-3, 10-8 in doubles.

Tiafoe then made it 13-8, but it wasn’t easy.

He went a tournament-record 8-0 in tiebreakers at Flushing Meadows this month and was just as resilient Sunday.

“It’s been a long time that Frances has been playing the big guys close and losing a lot of close battles. It’s great to see lately he’s been winning,” said Taylor Fritz, an American who is the same age as Tiafoe and has known him for years. “It’s about time that he steps up and the matches go the other way. Today was a joke.”

That’s because Tiafoe was a single point from losing to Tsitsipas four times in their second-set tiebreaker, but somehow got through that. Then, at 4-all in the concluding match tiebreaker – first to 10, win by two – Tiafoe sprinted from behind the baseline to near the net and barely got to a drop shot by Tsitsipas, somehow lunging to flick an angled winner.

While most of the 16,365 fans went wild, Tiafoe went around the net and stood still, hands on his hips, relishing the atmosphere.

“We put him in the slot that he was in today for a reason,” said Team World’s Tommy Paul, another 24-year-old American, “and he stepped up for us, big time.”