Lleyton Hewitt has forecast a “brutal” year for Australia’s top tennis hopes beyond their home grand slam.
Six tournaments will be held simultaneously this week ahead of the Australian Open from February 8, when thousands of fans will descend on Melbourne Park in a feat that has Rafael Nadal raving.
But with Australia a world leader in containing the virus, Hewitt expects headaches when players such as Brisbane-based world No.38 John Millman and Spanish-based Alex de Minaur plot their next moves.
“To be able to host events like this with crowds, it’s unheard of right at the moment,” former world No.1 Hewitt said.
“But as tennis players … it’s the most brutal sport there is with the position that the tour is in as an individual sport on a global stage where you’re playing in different countries, to use your passport every single week to go into different places, get visas, the quarantine procedures in every single country are so different as well.
“It makes it really hard for these guys … Johnny is based in Brisbane, but for him to go off and try to compete for the whole year, possibly waste two weeks sitting in a hotel when he comes back at any stage isn’t easy.
“There’s a lot of outside-the-box thinking that has to go on to be an Australian tennis player right now, but these guys want to get out there and compete and they’re willing to do the hard yards and make sacrifices for that.”
He said that hardship is why the Australian Open looms as extra special, and that feeling isn’t lost on world No.2 Nadal.
“Well, I am not a specialist on this stuff, but from my humble opinion, can I just congratulate the country for an amazing effort that Australia did to contain the virus here,” the Spaniard said when asked if he feared the tournament could spark an outbreak.
“It is one of the best examples in the world about how to do things well in this particular case.
“There are no cases here … we can’t (afford to) be the ones who create a big problem in the country and I think they’ve taken all the necessary measures to avoid that. I think the country’s safe. We just can say thanks for welcoming us.”
He said he would continue to listen to the experts, including those tasked with organising July’s postponed Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“I think everybody wants to play in Olympic Games,” Nadal said.
“I am nobody to have a clear opinion on that.
“I am just a tennis player, a human person … we’re going to do what the people who know about the virus and who know about protecting the people in every single country (tell us).”