Australian Open boss Craig Tiley has rejected calls to shorten men’s matches at the grand slam as the number of coronavirus cases linked to the tournament rises to nine.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says three of four new COVID-19 cases in the state announced on Tuesday are connected to the Open.
Some 72 players and support staffers are in a 14-day lockdown in Melbourne after arriving on 17 charter flights in the past five days.
Andrews says some of the nine tennis cases may be reclassified as non-infectious shedding, which could allow players to leave their lockdown hotel rooms to train.
“If you’ve got say 30 people who are deemed a close contact because they’ve been on a plane with a case, and the case is no longer an active case but a historic shedding, well that would release those people from that hard lockdown,” Andrews told reporters on Tuesday.
But Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton warned the virus could still be incubating in some of the 1200 people who have arrived in Melbourne for the Open.
Cases have been linked to three charter flights from Abu Dhabi, Doha and Los Angeles.
The fresh cases come as Open boss Tiley said organisers always expected some positive COVID-19 tests among arrivals.
“There was going to be an expectation to have several positive cases,” Tiley told the Nine Network on Tuesday.
Tiley said the lockdown for some players meant preparations for the grand slam starting on February 8 was “not an even playing field”.
Players in lockdown are prevented from training while another group of competitors, including world No.1 Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, are in Adelaide where restrictions don’t prevent them practising.
“We’re going to play our part to try to even it up as much as possible,” Tiley said.
But he rejected calls from some men’s players to reduce Open matches to best of three sets instead of best of five.
“We’re a grand slam at the end of the day,” he said.
“Right now, three out of five sets for the men and two out of three sets for the women is the position we plan on sticking to.”
Some players have used social media to detail their perceived hardships of being in lockdown.
“These are high performing athletes and it is hard to keep a high performing athlete in a room,” Tiley said.
“This is the contribution that they have to make in order to get the privilege of when they do come out to compete for $80 million in prize money.
“We will turn the corner on those few that don’t have the right approach to this.”
Tiley defended Djokovic for appealing to Open organisers to ease restrictions in a wishlist reported on Monday, including a request to shift as many players as possible in Melbourne to private residences with tennis courts.
Djokovic’s requests were refused by Victorian hierarchy.
“In the case of Novak, he wrote a note, these weren’t demands, they were suggestions,” Tiley said.
“But he too is understanding what two weeks of lockdown means … every player coming down knew that if they were going to be close contacts or test positive that these were going to be the conditions.”