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'No room to swing a racket': New Zealand player shares lockdown life

Sports & General Jan 17, 2021 02:50AM ET
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By Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - As one of the 47 tennis players forced into a hard isolation ahead of the Australian Open, New Zealand's Artem Sitak may be bouncing off the walls of his Melbourne hotel room by the end of his 14-day quarantine.

The Russia-born doubles specialist was on flight QR7493 from Los Angeles, sharing the chartered plane with three people who tested positive to COVID-19 after landing in Melbourne.

Now, as one of the two-dozen players aboard the flight deemed "close contacts" of the infected trio, Sitak is effectively in solitary confinement at the View Melbourne, an inner city hotel converted into a quarantine facility.

Unlike other players who arrived safely and have the luxury of leaving their hotels to train five hours a day, the 34-year-old cannot even open his door for the threat of a A$20,000 ($15,400) fine under Australia's strict quarantine regime.

Some players have complained and said they are at a disadvantage compared to better-prepared opponents ahead of the Feb. 8-21 Grand Slam.

But Sitak is philosophical, and intends to burn through the hours with exercise, reading and playing games on his Nintendo Switch (NYSE:SWCH).

"Everything that I did in the off-season ... I had six very good weeks of training, it’s not completely ruined but it’s not the same now," he told Reuters in an interview.

"Obviously when I come out of the quarantine, we’re all going to be a little bit rusty.

"We’re going to have to ease into it a little bit because it’s not easy to be locked down for 14 days. But what can you do with the circumstances?"

Sitak gave Reuters a virtual tour of his room, a bland but comfortable enough space with a window that overlooks a city-scape.

With no housekeeping available, he laughed that his room was a bit of a mess on day three of quarantine.

But there was "amazing coffee", an exercise bike and other fitness equipment that tournament organisers Tennis Australia (TA) had sent to his room.

He said he was eating the food served by the hotel but other players were unsatisfied with it and were using a food delivery app instead.

"We told Tennis Australia that it’s not up to the professional tennis player’s standards, so they are working on improving that," he said.

"They gave us the Uber (NYSE:UBER) Eats, if we want to order Uber Eats we’ll get extra money in the end with our prizemoney to compensate for that."

He praised TA for trying hard to make the best of a difficult situation. Yet he also had sympathy for players concerned about the risks of competing after two weeks stuck in their rooms.

"Yeah, definitely, especially for singles players if they have to come out and go play a singles match, it’s very difficult, it’s extremely difficult," he said.

"I hope for everyone that they’ll be fine and there will be no injuries. It could happen.

"But as I said in my (social media) post, we knew the risk we were taking and Australia being very, very strict with their rules concerning the virus ... this was always a possibility."

Sitak said he had been impressed by the creativity of Uruguayan Pablo Cuevas, another tennis pro in hard isolation.

The world number 68 Cuevas posted video on social media of himself hitting a ball against an upturned mattress in his room and "surfing" on his bed.

"That was pretty cool," said Sitak. "He has a pretty big room, so he can actually swing his racket in it. I don’t think I can swing my racket in this room."

($1 = 1.2984 Australian dollars)

'No room to swing a racket': New Zealand player shares lockdown life

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