No crowds, but Australian Open will continue during lockdown

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MELBOURNE, Australia — The Australian Open will be allowed to continue but without crowds after the Victoria state government imposed a snap, five-day lockdown starting Saturday in response to a COVID-19 outbreak at a quarantine hotel.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews on Friday announced a state-wide lockdown starting a minute before midnight local time, imposing restrictions that prevent residents from leaving their homes except for work, to shop for essential supplies, for care or caregiving, and limited exercise.

Schools will be closed Monday through Wednesday, and there will be no gatherings permitted at homes or for sports events, weddings or religious services. Masks will be required everywhere.

Andrews said the Feb. 8-21 Australian Open could continue “because these people are at their workplace.”

“It will be happening, but there’ll be no one there watching it,” he said. “I don’t have advice to cancel the event on the basis that it’s unsafe.”

Andrews se said the latest COVID-19 cases had nothing to do with the tennis quarantine program.

Organizers are hopeful of fans returning for the last four days of the tournament, including the semifinals and finals in the singles.

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said the only people who will be permitted on site from Saturday through Wednesday will be the players and their direct support teams, as well as essential staff members not able to work from home.

“The feedback we’ve had from all the players is they just want to get on and play,” he said. “They’ve been playing in a bubble with no crowds for pretty much a year now, so the last five days (with crowds) have been a unique experience for them.”

Serena Williams was in the middle of her third-round win over Anastasia Potapova when the lockdown was announced. The seven-time Australian Open winner didn’t hear the news until after the match.

“I think it’s good that I didn’t know. . . . It’s going to be a rough few days for I think everyone,” she said. “It’s been really fun to have the crowd back, especially here.”

Grigor Dimitrov, who also advanced to the fourth round on Friday, said he feels fortunate the tournament is going ahead at all.

With “everything that has been happening, in a sense I feel like nothing can surprise me,” he said.

Even though Andrews urged people to “exercise good judgement” and not go out Friday night, hundreds of rowdy, boisterous fans packed into John Cain Arena for the match between local favorite Nick Kyrgios and third-seeded Dominic Thiem that ended close to 11 p.m. local time.

The crowd was jumping up and screaming for each of Kyrgios’ winners, booing close line calls and pounding the backs of seats in between points. There was little in the way of social distancing, and with masks not yet required by law, few people were wearing them.

“I always prefer playing in front of a crowd, even if they are not for me,” Thiem said of the atmosphere after the match. “It was a good last match before the lockdown, it’s really sad to say.”

The Australian Open was the first Grand Slam tournament in a year to allow sizeable crowds.

After the COVID-19 outbreak became a pandemic, Wimbledon was canceled, fans were not allowed at the U.S. Open and the number of spectators at the French Open was heavily restricted to 1,000 per day.

Under the initial plan for the Australian Open, the government allowed up to 30,000 people daily the first week at Melbourne Park, or about 50% of capacity. The biggest daily attendance in the first four days was 22,299 on Friday.

All players, staff and officials who arrived on charter flights for the tournament, a total of about 1,200 people, had to undergo a mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine. Of those, 72 were forced into a hard lockdown after being deemed close contacts of passengers who tested positive for the virus after landing in Australia, and were not permitted to leave their rooms for any reason.

Andrews said the new lockdown was a “short, sharp circuit breaker” in a bid to avoid a bigger, longer lockdown as the state combats a “hyper-infectious” strain of the coronavirus.

The cluster of cases linked to the hotel quarantine program at the Holiday Inn at Melbourne Airport grew to 13 on Thursday night, with five new cases emerging, including two household contacts of existing cases. These were the first cases linked with the cluster who had not been inside the hotel.

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 was put in place in Melbourne.

That lockdown lasted 111 days. All non-essential businesses and schools were closed, and residents were initially permitted to leave their homes for just an hour each day. A nightly curfew was imposed for weeks.

The extreme measures did succeed in stamping out the virus. Victoria had gone 28 straight days without a locally acquired case until early February.

Australia’s states and territories have also been quick to close their borders when outbreaks have occurred, which has also helped to contain the virus. Several states have announced border closures already for travelers from Victoria.

Last week, play in all six tuneup tournaments was suspended for a day after the worker in one of the tournament’s quarantine hotels tested positive for the coronavirus. That meant 507 people connected to the tournament, including 160 players, had to isolate and get tested for COVID-19. All of those tests returned negative.

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.”

Sonego beats Bublik at Moselle Open to win 1st title of 2022

Winston-Salem Open - Day 5
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METZ, France – Lorenzo Sonego clinched his first title of the season by beating Alexander Bublik 7-6 (3), 6-2 in the Moselle Open final.

The 27-year-old Italian did not drop a set all tournament as he won the third title of his career and first on hard courts.

The unseeded Sonego recovered from 0-40 down in the fifth game of the match and secured victory when the seventh-seeded Bublik sent a backhand return long.

He then danced on court as he celebrated a perfect tournament where he also beat defending champion Hubert Hurkacz in the semifinals.

Sonego’s win will move him up 21 places in the ATP rankings and into 44th place.