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Sport Australian Open to go ahead without crowds despite strict lockdown

20:13  12 february  2021
20:13  12 february  2021 Source:   dailymail.co.uk

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Naomi Osaka hitting a ball with a racket: MailOnline logo © Provided by Daily Mail MailOnline logo

Leading players say they are grateful just to be able to continue the Australian Open after crowds were shut out and 'bubble' conditions introduced when Victoria was plunged into a snap five-day lockdown.

'We're guests here, so whatever works for the safety of everyone,' said world No.3 Naomi Osaka, the 2019 champion, after easing into the fourth round on Friday.

Osaka won the US Open last September in New York at an empty Arthur Ashe Stadium and said while she has loved being back in front of fans for the first time in almost a year, she supported the Victorian government's response to Melbourne's growing outbreak of COVID-19 cases.

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'I know there were quite a few people that weren't really happy with us being here in the first place, so I think we're all just really happy to be playing anyway.

Naomi Osaka wearing a hat: 'We're guests here, so whatever works for the safety of everyone,' said world No.3 Naomi Osaka (pictured on February 12 during her Women's Singles third round) © Provided by Daily Mail 'We're guests here, so whatever works for the safety of everyone,' said world No.3 Naomi Osaka (pictured on February 12 during her Women's Singles third round)

'For me, I've played New York without fans, and it went really well for me.

'I'm sad, but I know what the priority is.'

Other players including seven-time champion Serena Williams echoed her sentiments.'

'It's rough - it's going to be a rough few days for I think everyone, but we'll hopefully get through it,' said Williams after also reaching the fourth round.

'But, you know what, at the end of the day we have to do what's best and hopefully it will be all right.'

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Men's 18th seed Grigor Dimitrov said players had a lot to be grateful for.

'We're still very fortunate to be able to play a grand slam tournament in the middle of a pandemic and very, very thankful to the Australian Open, to all the parties that made that thing happen,' the Bulgarian said.

Tournament boss Craig Tiley said cancelling the rest of the Open was never an option and the absence of crowds and a player bubble was one of the contingency plans that had been prepared.

a baseball player holding a racket: 'It's rough - it's going to be a rough few days for I think everyone, but we'll hopefully get through it,' Serena Williams (pictured) said © Provided by Daily Mail 'It's rough - it's going to be a rough few days for I think everyone, but we'll hopefully get through it,' Serena Williams (pictured) said

The Open is close to the halfway point and is scheduled to conclude on Sunday, February 21 with the finals of the mixed doubles and men's singles.

Tiley hoped that crowds would be able to return on Thursday ahead of the women's semi-finals and the first of the men's semis.

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'Play will continue and players will compete in a bubble form not dissimilar to what they've been doing right throughout the year,' Tiley said.

'Those who will be allowed on site will be players and their direct support teams as well as those staff members who are unable to do their work from home.'

Tiley expected players to spend the bulk of their time on site, either playing or training, and they would otherwise remain under the same conditions as the general public.

Victorian premier Dan Andrews said tennis players were not considered 'essential workers' but the nature of their profession meant they could not work from home.

'If you can work from home, you must,' Andrews said.

'That's (Melbourne Park) their workplace.'

a man holding a racket and a ball: Men's 18th seed Grigor Dimitrov (pictured)  said players had a lot to be grateful for to be able to continue playing © Provided by Daily Mail Men's 18th seed Grigor Dimitrov (pictured)  said players had a lot to be grateful for to be able to continue playing

Andrews said the current infection - of the highly-contagious UK variant of the virus - was not linked to the tennis and there was no advice to call it off.

'I don't have advice to cancel the event on the basis that it is unsafe, I just don't have that,' he said.

'This case has got nothing to do with that event. This case is a different matter.'

The event has already suffered a significant financial hit with crowd limits reduced to 50 per cent capacity and Tiley conceded it would do more damage to their bottom line.

Just 76,213 fans attended in the first four days compared to a record 299,156 at the same point in 2020.

Fans who have tickets for the next five days are able to get a refund.

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