MELBOURNE, Australia: The safety protocols for COVID-19 have been a touchy subject at the Australian Open, particularly after nine-time champion Novak Djokovic was deported for failing to meet the country’s strict vaccination requirements.
So Olympic champion Alexander Zverev attracted wide attention after his second-round match when he said “we are not getting tested” and, therefore, there’re more COVID-19 cases around than there was in the more locked-down environment of last year.
Australian Open organizers clarified the process on Day 4 of the tournament, saying daily rapid antigen tests were being provided, testing clinics were open both onsite and at the player hotel, and there was mandatory symptomatic testing.
Masks also must be worn at all times at Melbourne Park except when playing, exercising or eating and drinking. Tournament organizers said everyone who traveled into Australia for the year's first major had to undergo a mandatory PCR test on arrival and another between Days 5 and 7.
Because of a surge in the omicron variant and more pressure on the public health system, PCR testing has become more difficult to access in Melbourne and rapid antigen tests have also been in short supply.
Except at the Australian Open. Players, their entourages, officials and media are required to show evidence of regular negative tests to access Melbourne Park.
“They are very strict,” fourth-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas said. "Well, it’s the responsibility of each and every athlete to test themselves regularly to see whether or not they are positive, which has been the case for me.
“I have been trying to get a few antigen tests and rapid tests to see whether or not I’m positive, which is a responsibility that I have, it’s something that I have to do in order to see if I’m 100%.”
Former major champions including Garbiñe Muguruza and Andy Murray are among those who said they were testing themselves regularly, and treating it like an honesty system.
Australian player Maddison Inglis said she was doing precautionary testing because “I want to keep myself and my team safe and everyone around me.”
MURRAY IN MELBOURNE
Andy Murray has reached the Australian Open final five times in 14 trips to Melbourne Park but never won the title.
Two days after posting his first win in five years at the season-opening tennis Grand Slam tournament, the former No. 1 exited after losing to 120th-ranked Taro Daniel 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in the second round.
His win over 21st-seeded Nikoloz Basilashvili in the first round was his first at the Australian Open since 2017.
Injuries and illness kept him out in 2018 (hip), 2020 (pelvis) and 2021 (COVID-19), and he lost a five-setter in the first round in 2019, which many thought might have been his last in Australia.
So, was the loss to Daniel his last, or will the three-time major champion be back in 2023?
The 34-year-old Scot said “yeah” when asked if he would return, but only with certain provisos.
“Not if I do what I did tonight too often this season,” he said. "This is a really important year for me for a number of reasons, and I want to perform well in the big events. For me, tonight is not good enough in that respect.
“Making second round of Slams is not something I find particularly motivating. I want to be doing better than that."
Murray engaged in a Twitter admiration exchange with Australian Open women's champion Naomi Osaka this week.
Murray started with a post that asked: “Anyone hit the ball cleaner from the baseline than (at) Naomi Osaka?"
Osaka, another former No. 1, responded: “Anyone put their heart on their sleeve and fight harder than (at)Andy Murray?"
Osaka recalled after her second-round win how delighted she was to read Murray’s praise and how the pair had a practice session in Brisbane, Australia, three years ago.
“Yeah, definitely means a lot," she said. "For me it was a really cool moment.”
SO LONG, SAM
Sam Stosur warned everyone before her 20th Australian Open campaign that there would be tears when her singles career came to an end.
Tears welled in her eyes as the 2011 U.S. Open champion sat in the court-side chair, soaking in the crowd support after her 6-2, 6-2 loss to 10th-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the second round.
“I just wanted to run for everything as hard as I could. I’ve done more than I ever thought possible," Stosur said in an on-court ceremony after the match. “I dreamed of winning a Grand Slam and I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
A video tribute played as an emotional Stosur stood mid-court, holding a bouquet of flowers.
“It was emotional for me," Pavlyuchenkova told the crowd. "She is such a wonderful human being and an amazing tennis player.”
While her singles career is over — she also made a run to the French Open final in 2010 and three other semifinals at Roland Garros — the 37-year-old Stosur will continue playing doubles for the remainder of 2022.