ADELAIDE, Australia — — Serena Williams was preparing to play Naomi Osaka at an Adelaide exhibition tournament. But first things first — after 14 days in quarantine because of the COVID-19 pandemic regulations in Australia, the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion took her daughter to the zoo.
Williams said she’d been crossing off the 14 days of quarantine on a calendar, having spent the time with her three-year-old daughter Olympia.
“We went to the zoo,” Williams said of her first movements outside of quarantine. “I am so glad it’s over because to be in a room with a three-year-old and being her best friend is definitely difficult, especially after training and working out.
“Honestly, I wouldn’t trade anything, spending hours and hours and hours with her was really fun.”
Williams’ match against Osaka will be a reprise of their controversial 2018 U.S. Open final. Osaka beat Williams 6-2, 6-4 to claim her first major title but the match was most remembered for Williams’ verbal altercations with chair umpire Carlos Ramos.
In the opening match Friday at Adelaide, top-ranked Novak Djokovic missed the start of his scheduled exhibition match against emerging Italian talent Jannick Sinner, who was Rafael Nadal’s quarantine practice partner. Djokovic got treatment for a blister on his right hand, leaving Sinner to play Filip Krajinovic, but the eight-time Australian Open champion arrived on court at the start of the second set to cheers from the crowd.
Krajinovic won the first set 6-3 and Djokovic the second by the same score to give the Serbian tag-team victory.
“I am sorry that I didn’t step on on the court from the beginning, I had to do some treatment with my physio,” Djokovic told the crowd in a post-match interview. “I wanted to play, I wanted to get out there.”
A television close-up had earlier showed a large blister on the palm of his Djokovic’s right hand, where his racket would sit.
“It’s part of what we do, we learn over the years to play with the pain,” Djokovic said. “But I saw the crowds and the emotion was so strong for me to come out, I had to play.”
A few hours earlier, Djokovic, who has already had COVID-19, celebrated the end of his quarantine with a barefoot walk in a local park.
“Just putting bare feet on the ground,” he said. “Just doing something that I didn’t have a chance to do. So just having space, that is what we all kind of missed.”
Nadal and Dominic Thiem, who have won the past two majors played in Paris and New York, were scheduled to start the night session at Adelaide before women’s No. 1 Ash Barty took on Simona Halep. It will be Barty’s first match in 11 months.
The Adelaide tournament is the only Australian Open tune-up tournament that isn’t being played in Melbourne. The others, including the ATP Cup and three WTA events, will starting getting underway from Sunday. The Australian Open starts Feb. 8.
In Melbourne, the first of the players to leave quarantine were greeted with the city’s often fickle weather — rain showers.
The National Tennis Centre at Melbourne Park has eight indoor courts and officials were expected to be inundated with requests from players, particularly those who have been in hard lockdown, for court time.
Those 72 players, who were on board the same three charter flights as the nine passengers who tested positive to COVID-19, have been unable to leave their rooms while others have been able to train for up to five hours a day.
Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley said players who had been in hard lockdown would be given priority.
“We’re going to have a great deal of empathy for supporting those who have been in hard lockdown and I’ve already made that commitment to them,” Tiley said.