As Melbourne rushes to contain a possible outbreak, a tennis great has a strong message for the community.
Today’s play at Melbourne Park has been suspended, after an Australian Open quarantine worker tested positive to coronavirus.
Up to 600 people associated with the tournament, including players and staff, have been identified as casual contacts and are isolating until they receive a negative test result.
Woodbridge, the winner of 22 grand slam doubles titles, said it was unfair to put the blame for the outbreak on the sport.
“The reality is that this is going to be our life for the next year or so,” Woodbridge told Wide World of Sports.
“I’m a little frustrated with people blaming the Australian Open, and tennis, for it happening.
“The reality is, in Victoria, we need to open up and get moving. We have to work out a way we do that, and tennis is the catalyst for making it happen.
“Other states have had an issue like this from quarantine, whether it be Queensland, New South Wales or Western Australia, and they’ve managed to deal with it quite quickly and get it under control.
“This is something that’s been happening around the country, not just because of the tennis. We only had a handful of cases out of the 1200 people who arrived, less than one percent. We had more cases in returned travellers than we did from the tennis cohort.”
Woodbridge noted that contingency plans would have been developed for situations like what we’ve seen in the last 24 hours, with tournament officials working around the clock to establish what can be done.
He pointed out that adapting to changing circumstances is what the winter codes did so well.
“I would hope people don’t blame sport for this. Every code of sport in Australia is trying to do the same thing, and everything will be done as safely as possible to get the tournament running,” he said.
“If that means having no fans and the playing group being tested every day, that’s a worst-case scenario the tournament would look at.
“We have to remember what football did for the psyche of everybody around Australia, whether that be AFL or NRL.
“It was at a time when people were struggling, and sport helped lift those spirits. Many people I’ve spoken to said that without football they would have struggled through the winter.
“There were changes almost weekly to ensure those codes got through their competitions, so they’ll be the adjustments Tennis Australia will be working through at the moment with the government, the Premier’s office, and the health and justice authorities, to make sure everything is covered.”
Woodbridge said that while Australian Open plans are currently in limbo, the situation should be much clearer within 24-48 hours, and he remained confident the tournament can start on Monday as scheduled.
“At this point, yes. But as this last year has told us, we have to be ready for anything,” he explained.
“My hope is that for everyone who has made the sacrifices to get the tournament up, the internationals who’ve come here and put themselves through what they have, that we get that opportunity.
“It’s a scenario that nobody wanted to see, and it’s a bit of a case of hoping that that particular case has had no community transmission.
“My instinct tells me, that because of the protocols in place, the playing group will be fine, because of the testing and isolation that they have.”
With the ATP Cup currently in progress, as well as a number of ATP and WTA lead-up tournaments, the loss of a day’s play places pressure on the schedule to get the matches completed in time for the Australian Open.
But Woodbridge explained there’s a number of ways that could happen.
“I think there’ll be an adjustment to this particular week,” he said.
“What that looks like will come down to more negotiations between the tours. There are plenty of options available, maybe going to shorter scoring formats to get through the matches.
“Much will depend on what happens today, and whether we can play tomorrow.”
The players have been noticeably quiet since the news broke last night, with hardly any commenting on the situation via their social media outlets, despite the fact many now have plenty of time on their hands as they isolate.
“I’m sure it will frustrate the players, because they will feel they’ve done everything asked of them,” Woodbridge said.
“But there’s an understanding as well, now they’ve been out in the community, they sense the nervousness of the locals who’ve been through a lot.
“Melburnians have worked hard to get to this point, and the players get it.
“They’ll do everything they’re asked. They’re now part of the community here, they feel safe, and they want to keep it that way, and also get on with the tennis.”
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