Tennis star Nick Kyrgios says he feels safe at the prospect of playing in this year’s Australian Open as he played down complaints from fellow stars who are quarantining ahead of the tournament in Melbourne.
Already delayed by three weeks, the season’s first grand slam starts on February 8, though 72 players have been confined to their hotel rooms amid a number of positive tests on their flights into Australia. Those players not in quarantine are allowed to practice for up to five hours a day.
That’s led to a handful of players expressing their frustration at the difference in preparation that competitors are experiencing ahead of the tournament
However, Australian Kyrgios, who has seemingly reinvented himself after a number of run-ins with tennis authorities in recent years, says conditions for these players are still “pretty good.”
“Health and safety always come first in my eyes,” Kyrgios told CNN Sport’s Patrick Snell. “At the end of the day, it is only a tennis tournament that we’re playing and I don’t think it should override health protocols and putting other people at risk.
“[The players] knew when they got here what the restrictions were going to be […] so there is no real complaining in my opinion. I think if everyone went about the pandemic as Australia did, we would be in a very different position.”
Australia has recorded 28,777 Covid-19 cases to date, with 909 virus related deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University.
‘As a country, we’ve come together’
Whilst cases continue to rise across the world, Australia managed to keep on top of the virus after implementing a number of restrictions last year.
Melbourne, the second-most populous city in Australia, was under a hard lockdown for 111 days with many unable to leave their homes for extended periods of time. Kyrgios does not want to see that hard work go to waste.
Australian Open organizers have worked with local authorities to ensure a strict bubble around those participating in next month’s event and have made no apology for the restrictions put in place. They have also scheduled a new warm-up tournament for players who have been unable to train during quarantine.
“I think, as a nation, Australia has dealt with the pandemic really, really well. As a country, we’ve come together and we’ve worked well,” added Kyrgios, who missed last year’s US Open amid Covid-19 fears.
“In Melbourne, with obviously the bubble, they’ve done an incredible job there. The authorities aren’t letting up and [are] making sure everyone is sticking by the rules.
“I actually feel quite safe. I didn’t really feel safe during last year, traveling and playing overseas, I thought it was a bit too soon to play.
“I think now the conditions are safe enough and everyone is going to work together and make sure we do it the right way.
“I don’t want to put anyone else at risk. I have loved ones that I don’t want to even have the chance to expose to Covid so I think it’s safe enough.”
During a heavily disrupted season last year, Kyrgios emerged as a “moral” voice within the tennis community, holding his fellow professionals to account for their behavior during the pandemic, most notably world No.1 Novak Djokovic, who organized the controversial Adria Tour in June.
A host of stars, including Djokovic himself, tested positive for Covid-19 after competing in the tournament, which attracted large crowds and had limited social distancing in place.
Kyrgios was critical of the event at the time and says it’s important he spoke out, especially when it comes to someone with the stature of Djokovic, who subsequently apologized for hosting the Adria Tour event last year.
“I think it’s very important, especially one of the leaders of our sport. He’s technically our LeBron James,” said the 25-year-old Kyrgios, comparing Djokovic to the NBA great.
“He has to set an example for all tennis players out there and set an example for tennis,” added Kyrgios. “I think when he was doing some of the things that he was doing during the global pandemic, it just wasn’t the right time.
“I know everyone makes mistakes. Even some of us go off track sometimes but I think we need to hold each other accountable.
“I’m not doing any of this stuff for media attention, these are the morals that I’ve grown up with. I was just trying to do my part.”
Djokovic, head of the Professional Tennis Players’ Association, recently sent a list of proposals to Craig Tiley, the CEO of Tennis Australia, which would have loosened the restrictions on quarantining players ahead of the year’s first grand slam.
“I use my position of privilege to be of service as much as I can where and when needed,” Djokovic wrote.
“There were a few suggestions and ideas that I gathered from other players from our chat group and there was no harm intended to try and help.”
Rising star Paula Badosa announced that she has tested positive for Covid-19 last week — the first known Australian Open player to contract the virus.
On Monday, the Australian government suspended quarantine-free travel for New Zealanders arriving in Australia for a minimum of 72 hours, after a South African variant of Covid-19 was detected in a woman after 14 days of quarantine in New Zealand.