The Australian Open lead-up has been plunged into chaos with at least 47 players now confined to their hotel rooms for the next 14 days after three positive coronavirus tests from two separate charter flights to Melbourne.
Two-time champion Victoria Azarenka, three-time grand slam winner Angelique Kerber and 2019 US Open victor Bianca Andreescu are among the players affected.
An aircrew member and a non-playing participant tested positive following their arrival from Los Angeles on January 15, initially leaving Azarenka among 24 players having to quarantine.
But the situation quickly escalated, with Tennis Australia (TA) on Saturday evening confirming another positive COVID test returned from a passenger on a charter flight into Melbourne from Abu Dhabi.
Sylvain Bruneau, the coach of Andreescu, later announced on social media that he was the person to test positive despite following “all Covid protocols and guidelines while in the Middle East”.
TA said that flight included 23 players, meaning 47 players will now be out of action for at least a fortnight and until they are medically cleared.
“Any players and support people will not be able to leave quarantine to attend training,” the Victorian government’s COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria (CQV) body confirmed.
“Players are being supported to access equipment for their hotel rooms to help them maintain their fitness during this time.”
Frustration has already grown among players with several taking to social media to vent their frustration and resentment.
“Weeks and weeks of practice and hard work going to waste for one person positive to Covid in a 3/4 empty plane. Sorry but this is insane,” tweeted France’s Alize Cornet.
Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens criticised the decision to quarantine all the players on the flight, calling it “Russian roulette”.
Players were originally given an exemption to leave their quarantine hotel to train for up to five hours a day, however, an email from TA confirmed all who were aboard the flights would now be in hard lockdown.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley issued a statement about the Los Angeles flight after an email sent to players had initially circulated about the incident.
“We are communicating with everyone on this flight, and particularly the playing group whose conditions have now changed, to ensure their needs are being catered to as much as possible, and that they are fully appraised of the situation,” Tiley said.
TA later confirmed details of a second flight from Abu Dhabi with 64 people, 23 of whom were players.
“All passengers from the flight are already in quarantine hotels and the positive case, who is not a player and had tested negative before the flight, has been transferred to a health hotel,” the statement read.
In addition to Azarenka, who won the Australian title in 2012 and ‘13, American Sloane Stephens and Japanese star Kei Nishikori were also on the Los Angeles flight, while Svetlana Kuznetsova, Maria Sakkari, Ons Jabeur and Belinda Bencic were among others to come from Abu Dhabi.
Nishikori had tested positive for COVID-19 in August.
American Tennys Sandgren, who was cleared to fly when his recent positive test was deemed to be viral shedding, was also believed to be on board the Los Angeles flight.
He is not linked to the new positives.
Two months ago, when pushing for relaxed border restrictions in Australia and a special player bubble, Tiley told AAP players simply would not agree to a fortnight in isolation without being able to train.