Top-seeded tennis stars under strict lockdown at Melbourne's Grand Hotel are smashing balls against the closed curtains of their rooms to maintain their form for the upcoming Australian Open.
Players and support staff whose chartered flight landed in Australia last week immediately began two weeks of quarantine to limit the spread of COVID-19 ahead of the year's first Grand Slam tournament, which runs Feb. 8-21.
Some are allowed to leave their hotel for limited training, but 72 players are facing stricter quarantine measures after six people on those chartered flights tested positive for COVID-19.
Ottawa's Gabriela Dabrowski, ranked 10th in the world in women's doubles, is in Melbourne. She spoke to CBC's Ottawa Morning. The conversation has been edited for length.
What type of quarantine are you under?
Unfortunately, I was deemed a close contact as three people tested positive on my flight, so I'm in full isolation where I am not permitted to leave my room for 14 days. On flights where there were no positive cases, players and their teams are allowed to train for about four hours a day, plus one hour of allotted time for nutrition at the venue. So a total of five hours.
How did you get the news, and how did you react to it?
I got the news via email. For about five minutes I had a full-on mental breakdown, but after talking to my parents and my doubles partner and a couple friends, I calmed down and put things in perspective. The first day was definitely a challenge. I was trying to figure out how to train in the room, and what Tennis Australia and the government would allow us to have in our rooms to help, equipment-wise. It was a whirlwind that first day.
We've seen video of the American Coco Gauff slamming tennis balls against curtains in her hotel room to practise. To what extent are you practising?
I don't really want to do that. I'm still in a hotel, it's not my property, I'm not going to risk breaking anything. I'm not really sure exactly how much hitting the ball against a mattress or a window can really help you, but sometimes it's just believing something will help, like a placebo effect. I had a stationary bike, but it was a little bit broken and I couldn't fix it, so I'm going to get another bike. They've graciously given us some weights. I've got a kettlebell and some dumbbells to keep up with strength training.
You mentioned that players on unaffected flights are allowed to leave their rooms for several hours a day to practise on the tournament grounds. Do you feel that gives them an unfair advantage?
Of course they have an advantage, but at the same time, I would not subject anyone else to this. I know it's been extremely tough for Australians because they've been through a very, very tough lockdown for many months. Now things are open and COVID is pretty much non-existent here. I fully respect how they've handled the pandemic. I just hope that everybody can come out of it injury-free, and I'm sure there'll be some adjustments made for us to have priority physio and court time once we get out of it.
Since discovering that you were a close contact on the charter flight, have you had another COVID test?
Yes. Every day. And every day, the results have been negative.
Some of the players have likened the conditions of their hotel quarantine as being like jail, but with Wi-Fi. Australians have been very critical of that reaction. What do you think?
I have a huge amount of respect for what Australians have gone through to be living COVID-free right now. So on one hand, I agree with them, and making a comment like that seems quite insensitive. On the flip side, we've technically been working since age seven and eight, dedicating our entire lives to our craft. We were invited to come here. Yes, there were exceptions made for us, but I think most people can agree that the Australian Open and tennis tournaments in general are a huge benefit to the local, national and international tennis community. I won't be making any comments about the conditions, because while they are difficult, there are absolutely worse things that are going on in the world.
Have you been vaccinated yet for COVID-19?
Do you think that athletes should be fast-tracked for vaccinations?
That's a hard question. I feel like there are other people that should get vaccinated ahead of us, but if more vaccines were available, then that could be something that's looked at. I've had a couple of people tell me that maybe I should hold off on getting vaccinated even if it is available, just to see how people react.
What is your strategy for the next 14 days of quarantine?
I'm catching up on some shows and some books that I didn't have time to get to during my preparations before heading over here. I've also got some school courses that I've just started. We've got a bunch of player calls to keep us occupied. There's no real reason to be bored.
Dabrowski will team up with Croatia's Mate Pavic in mixed doubles and American Bethanie Mattek-Sands in women's doubles.