Organizers say Aussie Open will start on time

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MELBOURNE, Australia — There were 160 players back in isolation because a hotel quarantine worker tested positive for COVID-19.

Six tuneup tournaments were suspended for a day so that 507 people connected with the Australian Open could be tested for the virus.

Apparently, no worries.

Australian Open organizers weren’t deterred at all, vowing that the year’s first Grand Slam tournament would start as planned next Monday, with all the tuneup tournaments completed – somehow, tweaks are expected – between Friday and Sunday.

The one-day shutdown was triggered – the Victoria state premier, a leading health official and Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley all said – out of “an abundance of caution.”

“We are absolutely confident the Australian Open is going to go ahead,” Tiley told a news conference against the backdrop of an almost deserted Melbourne Park. “We will be starting on Monday and we have no intention of changing times.”

Preparations have already been disruptive and chaotic for the so-called Happy Slam, even compared with some recent troubles.

Organizers and players have dealt with searing heatwaves some years. In 2020, acrid smoke from deadly bushfires overshadowed the leadup to the tournament.

Everyone adapted, the show went on. Novak Djokovic won his eighth Australian Open title in late January 2020, and Sofia Kenin won her first major.

Two months later, the Formula One season had a false start when the Australian Grand Prix was called off before an official practice session could be staged. Drivers and teams had flown in from Europe. There were thousands of fans queuing up to enter Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit. Still, the government shut it down.

Tiley was confident tennis wouldn’t be sidetracked like the F1 GP.

“The event that we have planned and the lead-in events – we’re absolutely confident it’s going to go ahead,” Tiley said. “The probability is very low that there’s going to be an issue.”

He said he’d expected all 160 players involved to have been tested by 5 p.m. and an order of play for Friday released sometime later. The draw for the Australian was pushed back almost 24 hours to Friday, sometime in the mid-afternoon.

Uncertainty is the only certainty for players and the tennis tours.

The Australian Open chartered 17 flights and used three hotels in Melbourne for the bulk of the players to quarantine for 14 days and had other secure accommodation and facilities in Adelaide, South Australia state, for some of the biggest stars, including Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.

Of those, 72 players were forced into hard lockdown after passengers on their flights later returned positive tests for the virus. Unlike the bulk of the players, they weren’t allowed out for five hours of supervised daily practice during quarantine.

All players were tested daily during quarantine and all were cleared before the tuneup tournaments began this week.

Some got a surprise notification before midnight.

Organizers were in touch with 507 people quickly asking them to isolate and giving instructions on how to undergo testing soon after Victoria state premier Daniel Andrews held a news conference at 10:30 p.m. to announce the new case and some new restrictions for Melbourne.

Anyone who quarantined at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Melbourne was deemed to be casual contacts of the 26-year-old infected quarantine worker.

“Players and their teams in there between Jan. 16-29 were immediately notified that when they got up at 9 a.m. we’d start testing, then stay in isolation until they got permission from the health authorities to leave,” Tiley said.

The other players, he said, were allowed into Melbourne Park for practice or to receive treatment.

Some took up the option. Among them, John Millman had an afternoon hit on Court 16.

He used up all his time, giving those waiting for the court some regular, friendly updates, “Five more minutes. One more game. One more point!”

He finished in a blustery breeze strong enough to knock over some potted trees dotted around for decoration.

And that also could be a problem. The forecast is for wind and rain, possibly a thunderstorm on Friday for Melbourne. That could play havoc with an already overcrowded schedule.

Not even that kind of forecast concerned Tiley.

“We are full steam ahead on planning what we’ve planning all along for this event,” he said.

Earlier, the state’s deputy chief health officer, Allen Cheng, had explained the rationale for the sudden testing.

“We think the risk to other guests at the hotel, so tennis players and their accompanying staff, is relatively low because they were in the rooms at the time as opposed to staff who were outside the rooms,” Cheng told a news conference. “”So we’re testing them to be sure, and it’s precautionary.”

Cheng said six people in the Grand Hyatt during the quarantine period for the Australian Open had tested positive and were transferred to a medical facility, and it was likely the man – a resident support officer – was infected there.

“We are aware that he was on a floor where there were cases,” Cheng said.

Cheng said it was “unlikely” the Open will be canceled.

Under the current plans, up to 30,000 spectators are expected daily at Melbourne Park for the two-week Grand Slam event. So far, there’s no plans to change that.

Not only will the latest issue test the resolve of players who’ve already been through two weeks of quarantine, it will also give ammunition to critics of the government decision to allow about 1,200 people to fly in from all over the world at a time when coronavirus cases were surging in some countries but under control in Australia.

Australia has 909 deaths attributed to COVID-19, including 820 in Victoria state. Most of those were during a second deadly wave last year when a hard lockdown and overnight curfews were put in place in Melbourne.

Debutant Stearns beats former champ Ostapenko to reach French Open 3rd round

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PARIS — French Open debutant Peyton Stearns produced the biggest win of her career by defeating former champion Jelena Ostapenko to reach the third round at Roland Garros.

Stearns, a former player at the University of Texas, only turned professional in June last year.

Ostapenko won the 2017 French Open but has since failed to advance past the 3rd round. The 17th-seeded Latvian dropped her serve five times against Stearns and hit 28 unforced errors in her 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 loss.

The 21-year-old Stearns has been climbing the WTA rankings and entered the French Open at No. 69 on the back of an encouraging clay-court campaign.

Third-seeded Jessica Pegula also advanced after Camila Giorgi retired due to injury. The American led 6-2 when her Italian rival threw in the towel.

Only hours after husband Gael Monfils won a five-set thriller, Elina Svitolina rallied past qualifier Storm Hunter 2-6, 6-3, 6-1.

In the men’s bracket, former runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas ousted Roberto Carballes Baena 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-2. The fifth-seeded Greek was a bit slow to find his range and was made to work hard for two sets but rolled on after he won the tiebreaker.

No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz and No. 3 Novak Djokovic are on court later. Alcaraz meets Taro Daniel on Court Philippe Chatrier, where Djokovic will follow against Martin Fucsovics in the night session.

Jabeur bounces back at French Open, Ruud and Andreeva advance

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PARIS — Ons Jabeur got a do-over on Court Philippe Chatrier at the French Open and won this time.

A year after her first-round exit, the No. 7 seed Jabeur beat Lucia Bronzetti 6-4, 6-1 to help erase some bad memories and answer questions about a recent calf injury.

The Tunisian, a crowd favorite in Paris, smiled and expressed relief in not repeating last year’s mistake, when she lost to Magda Linette of Poland.

“I’m very happy to win my first match on Philippe Chatrier – because I’ve never won here,” Jabeur said on court about the clay-court tournament’s main stadium.

Now she can focus on trying to win her first major. She was runner-up at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year.

The 28-year-old Jabeur has also battled injuries this season. She had knee surgery after the Australian Open, and was then sidelined with a calf injury. She had stopped playing against top-ranked Iga Swiatek at the clay-court tournament in Stuttgart, Germany, in late April and then pulled out of the Madrid Open.

“It was a very difficult period for me after Stuttgart,” said Jabeur, adding that she’s beginning to find her rhythm.

Jabeur struck 27 winner’s to Bronzetti’s seven, though with 24 unforced errors she’ll have room to improve.

Mirra Andreeva had a memorable Grand Slam debut by dominating Alison Riske-Amritraj 6-2, 6-1. Andreeva’s older sister – 18-year-old Erika – was facing Emma Navarro later in the day.

Later, Swiatek gets her French Open title defense started against Cristina Bucsa, who is ranked 70th.

On the men’s side, No. 4 seed Casper Ruud beat qualifier Elias Ymer 6-4, 6-3, 6-2, to remind the higher-profile tournament favorites that he was runner-up to Rafael Nadal last year at Roland Garros.