Aus Open boss justifies elite’s preferential treatment
The issue of preferential treatment being afforded to the tennis elite refuses to go away with more players hitting out at Australian Open organisers after CEO Craig Tiley offered justification for the greater freedoms the Adelaide contingent is enjoying.
Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and other big names remain in South Australia ahead of the February 8 grand slam, where they have significantly better preparation opportunity than their Melbourne-based peers - 72 of whom remain in hard lockdown.
Those based in Adelaide have been permitted larger entourages - Williams travelling with her husband, daughter and mother as well as hitting partners. Nadal is understood to have his father, manager and trainers with him though his coach opted to remain at home.
They are able to train with four people on court while their Melbourne counterparts are limited to one.
They have been pictured enjoying time outside on their balconies in accommodation believed to be significantly more luxurious than what is on offer in Victoria.
But it seems there is a way for lower-ranked tennis players to be treated the same as the sport's elite, Tiley says.
Perceived as? Fuck man don’t contradict yourself in the same paragraph. Call a spade a spade https://t.co/BpdlH6eXVU— Tennys Sandgren (@TennysSandgren) January 20, 2021
Go win a grand slam.
Tiley revealed it was a hot topic in the player meeting on Monday night, but had a simple answer to the complaints.
"I get the feeling it is perceived as preferential treatment," Tiley said.
"But they're the top players in the world. My general rule is if you're at the top of the game, a Grand Slam champion, it's just the nature of the business. You are going to get a better deal."
Tiley even pointed to Swiss champion Stan Wawrinka's photo of his gigantic dinner table in his Melbourne hotel as proof the stars in Victoria are being looked after as well.
"I don't know if you've seen pictures of Stan Wawrinka's room, but is that preferential treatment?" Tennis Australia's chief executive said.
"He has a pretty good deal. Others have only a one-bedroom (room) and in a different hotel."
One player lightheartedly told the Herald Sun this week that his hotel room was about the same size as Wawrinka's table.
It seems his comments haven't settled some of those in hard lockdown.
"Perceived as? F*** man don't contradict yourself in the same paragraph. Call a spade a spade," American Tennys Sandgren tweeted.
Doubles player Phillip Oswald - currently in quarantine - also complained, outlining the disadvantages he and his peers were enduring.
"First, players were allowed to take a lot more staff with them," Oswald told Tennisnet.
"They also have a gym in their hotel. So they don't have to do their fitness exercises during the five-hour period (when they are allowed outside their rooms).
"You only have the five hours to play tennis. There was a huge discussion and the other players were also upset. It's not apples and apples here, but apples and pears - and I caught the sour lemon."
Earlier this week Japan's Taro Daniel spoke of player resentment after Naomi Osaka caused a furore by posting an image of her and her contingent on the court - the image was later removed.
"People in Adelaide are being able to hit with four people on court, so there's some resentment towards that as well.
"Tennis always has these very unfair treatments towards top players and lower players, especially during grand slams.
"The court time they get to hit usually is completely different … which I think, to a certain extent, they deserve, but especially during a crisis like this it gets even bigger."
TA's decision to add an exhibition event in Adelaide, A Day at the Drive, to the summer calendar raised eyebrows, including Frenchman Jeremy Chardy accusing them of favouritism.
However, Chardy's suggestion that the Superstar Six would get to use the on-site gym outside their daily training allocation was wrong, Tiley confirmed.
There are still advantages, including each room having a balcony - pertinent, given Yulia Putintseva's 'We need fresh air to breathe' sign posted on Instagram - and more support staff on court with them.
Also hearing that unrest is growing over the separate arrangement in place for top players in Adelaide. Barely two days into the two-week quarantine period for the first arrivals and already a very delicate and tricky situation for Australian Open organisers.— Stuart Fraser (@stu_fraser) January 16, 2021
The 50-person bubble is based at the new Majestic M Suites Hotel in North Adelaide.
Tiley said the deal with the South Australian Government was necessary, because TA had exhausted its quarantine capacity in Melbourne.
What TA then had to do was make it worth Premier Steven Marshall's time, effort and investment, so the January 29 exhibition at Memorial Drive became a reality.
The venue will also host the Adelaide International, a WTA 500 tournament, from February 21 to 27, after the Australian Open.
WHO IS PAYING THE HOTEL BILL?
The Minister Police Lisa Neville has shot down claims by Australian Open CEO Craig Tiley that state government will be subsidising player quarantine costs.
With more than 1200 tennis players and personnel in hard and partial hotel lockdown ahead of the opening grand slam of the year, Tiley said accommodation costs were set to soar over $40 million.
When asked if there was going to be a hand out from local government he said: "Yes, absolutely. These quarantining costs are new costs. The state government is supporting us in that."
Hours later the claims were rubbished by Neville who insisted the government was not contributing any money to player accommodation.
"It is fully funded by Tennis Australia," she said. "I saw Tiley's comments but I want to be clear, hotel quarantine for the Aus Open is fully funded by TA, I have triple checked this. We fully support this event but the quarantine programs is funded by TA."
Hi Melbourne 💙 🙏🏼 I’m so happy to see you again 🤗 pic.twitter.com/gKwppNZXxS— Ajla Tomljanovic (@Ajlatom) January 20, 2021
"We are asking, for example, Australians who returned to contribute to the hotel quarantine costs, so it seemed appropriate to us that also tennis players, or the association, should contribute to their hotel costs," she said.
Tennis Australia released the following response concerning government funding late Wednesday afternoon.
"The Victorian Government support relates to ongoing discussions about funding for an extension to the agreement to host the AO in Melbourne and a range of other assets to help promote the city and the state, domestically and internationally."
Players and their entourages are currently being accommodated at the Grand Hyatt in Melbourne, the View on St Kilda Road, and the Pullman Hotel in Albert Park ahead of the February 8 tournament.
MORE CASES LINKED TO TENNIS
Four more COVID cases have been linked to charter flights for the Australian Open with two players among the positive results.
It brings the total number of positive cases linked to the tournament to 10. A further three cases will be counted in tomorrow (Thursday's) numbers - one of which is considered a "shedding case".
Currently 72 players are in hard lockdown, confined to their rooms having been on-board one of the three flights into Australia that have returned positive cases (LAX, Abu Dhabi and Doha).
Neville confirmed the news in her press briefing this morning adding that that of the three cases would be included in Thursday's numbers. Of them, two are players, one of whom they think is shedding, one a possible positive and another a support person.
"This morning we became aware of three more cases one of whom is a player we absolutely believe is shedding but has been in hard lockdown," Neville said.
"One is another player and one is a support person of that player.
"DHHS will go and look at those test results closely to see if it's shedding. For now they and their bubble will not be training. We have to know if they are shedding or positive.
"Seven today are positive cases - none of which are players. There was one shedding case. Today we have three cases one of which is a player we are confident is a shedder, the other two it is less clear that is one player one support person.
"Nothing will change for the 72 players in lockdown."
STOP FEEDING THE MICE
Australian Open tennis stars have been told to stop feeding mice in their rooms amid whispers they may have been encouraging the squeaky roommates to stick around for longer than necessary.
When asked about social media posts by professional player Yulia Putintseva showing mice in rooms, Piloce Minister Lisa Neville said the hotel had been pest controlled.
But she urged players to keep a tidy room after it was believed the mice filmed by Putintseva may have been fed.
"There may have been some feeding going on," Ms Neville said.
"We don't send cleaners into these rooms.
"Every tennis player needs to clean their own room and change their own beds if they want that.
"I just encourage them to minimise the interaction with the mice. We will keep doing pest control if we need to."
HEARTBREAK FOR SLOANE
Meanwhile, American star Sloane Stephens - currently holed up in hard lockdown as a result of travelling on the LAX flight, has shared her heartbreak following the death of her grandfather.
The one-time grand slam winner has endured a torrid month with her grandfather's death coming just a week after that of her grandmother and almost a month after the passing of her aunt.
They were all victims of COVID-19.
"I've watched this video from NY about 100 times today," she posted on social media with a video of her talking with her grandfather on the phone shortly after she won the US Open.
"My grandpa has gone to be with the Lord and the love of his life. One week apart from my grandma. Losing her was too much for his heart.
I’ve watched this video from NY about 100 times today. My grandpa has gone to be with the Lord and the love of his life. One week apart from my grandma. Losing her was too much for his heart. pic.twitter.com/4qzaorPb2C— sloanestephens (@SloaneStephens) January 19, 2021
"My grandpa was the kindest soul and I will miss him forever. I can only hope to fill so many lives with the love and happiness he did. He is the definition of love, kindness, generosity and a true example of family.
"All I ever wanted to do was to make my grandparents proud! I'm most proud they got to witness my tennis dreams come true & become a reality. I'm thankful for the time I had with both of them & grateful that I can see so much of them both in my mother, who continues to be my rock.
"Stories will be told of their great love. May they rest together in eternal peace."
PLAYERS CALL FOR CALM
The new positives came on a day when there was a reduction in complaints from quarantined players. It is understood this is the result of a request by organisers that players refrain from making comments to avoid further antagonising the Australian public.
Victoria Azarenka, the former world No 1 from Belarus, released a statement on Twitter asking for her fellow quarantined players to show "understanding and empathy", writing: "We have a pandemic. Nobody has a clear playbook of how to operate without a glitch."
Roberto Bautista Agut also rowed back from comments broadcast on the Israeli television channel Sport 5 the previous day, in which he described the situation as a "complete disaster". The world No 13 from Spain apologised yesterday (Tuesday), saying his words were part of a "private conversation taken out of context that has been released to the media without my knowledge or consent".
Measured responses from players appear to be the new norm with Britain's Johanna Konta very measured in her thoughts today.
"I think it's one of those situations when you are thrust into a situation you weren't expecting emotions are always going to run high," she said on the Today Show.
"Hopefully as the days go things settle down and everyone can make the best of the situation they have. it's not easy for the public here seeing us come in, it's not easy for the players, it's a lot of uneasiness for everyone.
"I consider myself one of the lucky ones, I was not on the flight with the case so I get the opportunity to practise so it would be unfair for me to comment on how they're feeling
We are here to put on a show for people around the world, we want to entertain everyone.
"A frustration for players is how well will they be able to perform? Sometimes rationale doesn't always come into that."
Tiley attempted to quell the storm surrounding Novak Djokovic after the world No 1 drew criticism for submitting a request to relax strict rules for the 72 players in full quarantine. The Serbian, who is also co-leader of the Professional Tennis Players Association, is unaffected by the quarantine and is at a separate training base in Adelaide.
"He wrote a note," Tiley told Channel 9 News. "These weren't demands, they were suggestions, but he is understanding what two weeks of lockdown means. I think the reports do not represent the entire playing group. For the most part, they have been really good."
Originally published as Aus Open boss justifies elite's preferential treatment