Johanna Konta, the British No 1, has warned that players’ health could suffer if they are asked to go straight from a two-week quarantine into January’s Australian Open.
This unhappy scenario became much more likely on Tuesday night, when it emerged that the Victorian state government did not want any overseas athletes to arrive in the country until the end of this year: probably Dec 31 or Jan 1.
With all incomers expected to self-isolate in a hotel for a fortnight after arrival – and the Australian Open due to start on Jan 18 – this could give the players little or no time to prepare for the first grand slam of the year.
The best way around the problem would involve players competing in a bubble while still serving out their quarantine, in a similar arrangement to that used at the recent French Open and US Open.
At the very least, players would want access to practice matches, perhaps at a hotel complex with numerous tennis courts. But none of these options has yet been sanctioned by the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews.
“From my perspective, my body wouldn’t be able to handle two weeks of de-conditioning, and then pushing me into the deep end,” Konta told the BBC.
“I think it would make it very difficult for players to be able to compete at the highest level without risking their bodies in the process. In an ideal world, players would get the opportunity to play one or two warm-up events. But I think this year has probably taught us there’s everything but probably ideal.”
Speaking at the O2 Arena on Wednesday, Brazilian doubles specialist Bruno Soares was equally concerned about going straight into a major tournament, which would be all the more daunting for male singles players competing over the best-of-five sets. “I will do it because it’s my job and I have to find a way,” said Soares, “but I think it’s quite dangerous for the players with no preparation.
Let’s hope we can at least practice and prepare ourselves for the whole year.”
One possibility would be for the Australian Open to move back a week. In any normal season, this would trample on the next tournaments on the itinerary, which generally moves on through the Middle East for the women and South America for the men.
But given that neither tour has yet published any schedule for next season – and that Tennis Australia was already planning to throw in a couple of extra events in the first half of February, to make a difficult trip more worthwhile – it could be plausible for the Australian Open to start on Jan 25 instead.
On the court, Alexander Zverev maintained his chances of qualifying for the semi-finals as he overcame Diego Schwartzman by a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 margin.
Asked about these upcoming issues, Zverev replied “If we can’t even practice for 14 days and we have to go out to play the Australian Open, it’s a lottery. I mean, you can basically flip a coin who wins.”
This week’s ATP Finals has already seen the big names stumble. After Rafael Nadal’s loss to Dominic Thiem on Tuesday, it was Novak Djokovic’s turn to suffer on Wednesday night as he went down in straight sets to Daniil Medvedev.
The defeat leaves Djokovic needing to beat Alexander Zverev on Friday if he wants to move through to the semi-finals for the ninth time at this event. It also means that, thankfully, neither of the two round-robin groups will need to be resolved by small mathematical distinctions.
Djokovic made a strong start on Wednesday night, pushing Medvedev around the court for the first half-hour without managing to claim a break. But then his own level dropped. Remarkably, from the moment when he gave up a break of his own at 3-3 in the first set, Djokovic lost seven consecutive games. This is not the sort of thing we are used to seeing from the world No 1.
Medvedev eventually closed out a 6-3, 6-3 win in 81 minutes and thus becomes the second man to progress to the knock-out stage after Thiem. “A bit better than last year,” he said afterwards, in reference to the three straight group defeats he suffered on his O2 Arena debut last year.