By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - While most of the world's top players quarantine in their hotel rooms ahead of the Australian Open, home hope Ash Barty is relishing the freedom of being outside the biosecure bubble.
Having remained in Australia through most of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world number one has avoided the two-week quarantine that nearly 1,000 players and officials are undergoing after landing in the country.
With Melbourne Park part of a biosecure bubble for the international players, Barty has been practising at suburban courts in Australia's second-largest city with players from across the country.
"It’s very unique. It almost feels like a bit of a camp if I’m being honest," the Queenslander told Tennis Australia's website https://www.tennis.com.au/news/2021/01/25/aussie-stars-preparing-for-australian-open-2021.
"Obviously the Queenslanders, we typically train together, but now we’re seeing the Victorian players for the first time in a long time.
"A few of the SA (South Australia) boys are here, the New South Welshmen are trickling in as well.
"I think it’s been a really unique kind of week and also good to get some hitting variety. We all understand the situation that we're in and we’re just trying to do all the right things."
The Australians' carefree training conditions are a world away from the tensions surrounding the international players' quarantine.
Nine people in the Australian Open cohort have tested positive to COVID-19, including four players, since landing in the country.
Health officials on Monday said they had not found any new cases linked to the Grand Slam in a relief for tournament organisers.
But authorities are likely to be on tenterhooks throughout the leadup to the Feb. 8-21 tournament as daily test results come in.
While most players are able to train outside their quarantine hotels for five hours a day, more than 70 cannot leave their rooms after some passengers on their charter flights tested positive for the novel coronavirus
Tennis Australia on Sunday announced a new women's competition from Feb. 3-7 to aid preparations for players in hard lockdown.
British doubles player Jamie Murray, whose brother Andy pulled out of the Grand Slam after contracting COVID-19, sympathised with those unable to train.
"That in itself is very stressful and I'm sure it's leading to increased anxiety," he told the Nine Network.
"But everyone has about eight or nine days to prepare for the Open and there'll be no restrictions on practice then.
"It's not an ideal situation but by the time the first round of the Australian Open comes around, I think everyone can be at their peak."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford; Editing by Peter Rutherford)