The process of releasing the large contingent of Australian Open players and staff who’ve been housed in three Melbourne hotels is set to last until as late as Sunday afternoon.
One of the first players let free to walk Melbourne’s streets, French veteran Richard Gasquet, left the Pullman Hotel and simply got into one of the Australian Open’s courtesy cars.
The 34-year-old said he was largely unaffected by the two weeks of quarantine, with the daily five-hour window for training comfortably meeting his needs.
“It’s an incredible city, so of course we are happy,” Gasquet told The Age.
“But you know we could practise five hours a day, so it was no problem.”
Unsurprisingly, one of the first things Gasquet was going to do was enjoy some Melbourne dining.
“In France there are no restaurants (open) at all, so very happy to be in Australia,” he said.
The three-time major semi-finalist was not even going to give himself extra time on the practice court in coming days.
“Two hours of tennis was enough, (plus) I could go to gym, I could see the physio. Everything was perfect.”
COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria – the body responsible for hotel quarantine in the state – earlier confirmed Australian Open players and staff will begin leaving quarantine at 6pm on Thursday.
“Departure dates and numbers may be subject to change,” the CQV statement read.
As of Thursday morning, one player who was forced to endure 14 days of strict hotel quarantine (because there had been a positive case on their charter flight) told The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald they had not been told what time they would be released.
And according to sources with knowledge of the situation, tournament boss Craig Tiley held a Zoom meeting with players on Thursday – but only those in hard lockdown – to help communicate the latest ruling from health authorities.
Flights entered Melbourne over a couple of days so therefore the 14-day quarantine period ends at differing times over the next few days.
Delaying matters further is the fact that CQV wants to make sure all players are let out individually, so as to ensure all checks and protocols are carried out.
For example, the three hotels will still be classified as a “red zone” until all players leave them.
That left some players – such as Sandgren – facing an extra day in quarantine.
Sandgren took to his Instagram story on Thursday to vent his frustration about one less day of practice.
“We play Saturday, Sunday, Monday, play a match on Tuesday. A competitive tennis match.
“[Including travel] 16 days off, three days hitting. Tennis match.”
Georgia’s Oksana Kalashnikova vented on Twitter.
“When Australian government orders u (sic) to stay another extra day just because,” she wrote.
Players and staff in quarantine have been tested daily and must have returned a negative test on day 13, and be asymptomatic, in order to leave the hotel.
Spanish player Paula Badosa is the only player who has tested positive. She is stuck in a separate “hot hotel” until next week.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said departing players would be “treated no different to anyone else going through the hotel quarantine system” and would be released in the same way.
Some will go to stay at private homes, other to private hotels, he said. He also said some hotels will convert from hotel quarantine premises to “Australian Open tennis hotels”.
World No.9 Petra Kvitova has been in soft quarantine, meaning she has been allowed out for five hours a day to practise and go to the gym.
She said the first thing she would do upon leaving quarantine would be “to go for a long walk and have a coffee, and also do some shopping”.
The 30-year-old said the players were lucky they can now live among the Victorian community as normal, and play in front of crowds, having completed 14-days quarantine.
Anthony is a sports reporter at The Age.
Sam is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.
Scott Spits is a sports reporter for The Age