Tennis players during lockdown.(Agencies)
Tennis players during lockdown.(Agencies)

Why the tennis world's best players are hitting balls against hotel walls

For a group of 72 players, a knock on the door usually means either a RT-PCR test or a delivery of food or some other essential.
By Rutvick Mehta
UPDATED ON JAN 23, 2021 12:22 PM IST

“You’re not allowed to leave the room or open the door unless you hear a knock.” Sumit Nagal could be describing a scene out of a thriller; instead, he is simply talking about a regular day in quarantine in Melbourne. For a group of 72 players, a knock on the door usually means either a RT-PCR test or a delivery of food or some other essential.

The days leading up to the 2021 Australian Open, starting February 8, has presented a unique situation for the world’s tennis pros, a 14-day hard quarantine period that had quite a few players expressing their displeasure. The two Grand Slams held amid the pandemic prior to this in New York (US Open) and Paris (French Open) had bio bubbles, one where after a negative test and certain hours of isolation, players could step out of their rooms and head to the courts to train.

“Those were bubbles, this is a proper quarantine,” Nagal, India's second-highest ranked men's singles player, said.

“Here, you have 14 days of testing. But if you test negative 14 times, what is the point of still being in the room? I don’t get it,” Rohan Bopanna, India’s most experienced and top-ranked doubles pro at world No 38, said. “I understand that the rules of this country and government are different and the way they’re doing it is different. There's nothing much we can do about it.”

A new formula

These are the rules for the 2021 Australian Open: each player flying into Melbourne aboard one of the 15 chartered flights bringing in all the people involved in the slam would have to be in quarantine for 14 days despite having a negative test before boarding. Players are allowed five hours of freedom per day for training.

Tennis player during lockdown,(Agency)
Tennis player during lockdown,(Agency)


Despite those meticulous arrangements, at least 10 people (including players, coaches, staff etc), spread across three flights, tested positive once they landed in Melbourne. As a consequence, all 72 people aboard those three flights were put into a full quarantine, with even those five training hours taken away.

Bopanna is part of that list of 72, Nagal isn’t.

“Some of us are lucky enough to have five hours to train. But it’s very, very strict,” Nagal, the world No 137 who was handed a wild card entry into the season’s first Slam, said.

Nagal, like every other player who is permitted fresh air, gets his daily outdoor schedule sent by the organisers only the previous night. He has to train with the same hitting partner for a week—for the first week it’s Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev. In that five-hour window, Nagal spends two hours on the court, puts in 90 minutes of gym and fitness work, takes one hour to eat and warm down and half hour to travel. It's also the only time he can interact in person with his coach Sascha Nensel.

“You have your timings given the night before. You have to wait in your room till they come get you. Then you practice on the court and eat with your partner. There’s a gym area around every court, and you can’t go from one area to another. You have to stick to your zone,” Nagal says.

“It’s a very new formula for us, because we were used to the bubble life—check in, get a negative test, practice, play, do anything you want inside the hotel. Here you have to look at the bigger picture. After 14 days, you can head out of the hotel and do whatever you want. That’s a very different scenario from all the tournaments that we have played in the last few months.”

Jail, but with wifi

Bopanna accepts the post-quarantine, no-bubble scenario as a big plus too; but at the moment, the 40-year-old is struggling to sit around all day in his hotel room for two weeks.

“I can very well tell you that I know what to do and how to plan this, but actually none of us do!” Bopanna said. “It’s nowhere close to what a normal routine looks like. There’s no point waking up and saying, ‘OK let me do my exercises’, after which I’m just lazing around in the room. And there’s literally nowhere to go—only up and down, left and right of the room. It’s just very lazy to sit in the room for 14 days, right? I mean, what can you do? Nothing. Your body just becomes lethargic.”

Stan Wawrinka in lockdown.(Agency)
Stan Wawrinka in lockdown.(Agency)


And with that body the doubles pro is scheduled to play an ATP 250 tournament a day after his quarantine ends on January 30, to fine-tune ahead of the Slam.

The anxieties of playing a Grand Slam merely days after the strict quarantine, coupled with the fact that not every player is going through the same experience has caused resentment among some players.

Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut termed the experience a “jail but with Wifi” before apologising for his comments. His compatriot Paula Badosa, who expressed frustration on social media on being part of the 72-player group, was “sorry” after revealing on Thursday that she had tested positive. The Spanish tennis federation has also jumped in, saying players had not been informed about the strict confinement possibility. World No 1 Novak Djokovic, who controversially formed a rebel players’ council during the US Open last year, presented a list of “suggestions”—as the Serb called it—to the tournament director that reportedly included reduced isolation days of the 72 players and moving as many players as possible to private houses with a court. They were all shot down.

Different strokes

Amid all this, players have found a way to get the best out of whatever they have in the room—be it hitting against the wall, mattresses or curtains. Bopanna’s isolation experiments include posting at least a video per day on Instagram, making his own bed, cleaning the outside of his window with water for a brighter view of a giant white wall and promptly responding to work emails from his academy. “My whole team is a little bit more on their toes now because I’m following up much quicker,” he said with a laugh.

It also helps that Bopanna’s wife, Supriya Annaiah, is a psychologist. “I’ve been speaking to her daily. Mentally you need to find a way to enjoy whatever you’re doing. There is no point in getting frustrated. It can be tough and that’s where you need to find a way,” he says.

For Bopanna that includes watching stand-up comic Russell Peters's videos, TED Talks, Netflix, yoga and online courses. “I’ve been doing some part-time courses; the last one was on international entertainment and sports marketing. There’s also one on social media and business, which is interesting,” he said.

Nagal has his own challenges; the 23-year-old will begin his year with a Slam straight from the off-season and squeezing his entire training routine in those five hours has been hard.

“Normally you play 2-3 hours of tennis, an hour of fitness, physio, massage, ice packs etc. You can change hitting partners, you can train depending on your time and plan things. Now you can’t do that. I understand we’re here early, but once we finish our quarantine, we only have a day to play a tournament,” Nagal said.

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close
Tennis - Australian Open - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, February 17, 2021 Spain's Rafael Nadal in action during his quarter final match against Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas REUTERS/Jaimi Joy(REUTERS)
Tennis - Australian Open - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, February 17, 2021 Spain's Rafael Nadal in action during his quarter final match against Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas REUTERS/Jaimi Joy(REUTERS)

Nadal pulls out of Rotterdam Open with back issue

Reuters
PUBLISHED ON FEB 25, 2021 08:59 PM IST
The 20-time Grand Slam winner has been struggling with a back issue since the build-up to the Australian Open and was forced to skip Spain's ATP Cup ties earlier this month.
Close
Coco Gauff of the US (AFP)
Coco Gauff of the US (AFP)

Coco Gauff advances to semifinals at Adelaide International

PTI
PUBLISHED ON FEB 25, 2021 05:41 PM IST
Gauff has won five straight matches in Adelaide, including two in qualifying, since her second-round loss to fifth-seeded Elina Svitolina at the Australian Open. She and Rogers had an extended rally in the ninth game of the third set, which Gauff won after setting up game point with a cross-court return.
Close
Tennis - Australian Open - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, February 17, 2021 Czech Republic's Karolína Muchova in action during her quarter final match against Australia's Ashleigh Barty REUTERS/Kelly Defina(REUTERS)
Tennis - Australian Open - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, February 17, 2021 Czech Republic's Karolína Muchova in action during her quarter final match against Australia's Ashleigh Barty REUTERS/Kelly Defina(REUTERS)

No. 1 Barty loses at Adelaide International; Gauff into QFs

AP
PUBLISHED ON FEB 24, 2021 11:14 PM IST
  • Barty has stayed at No. 1 in the rankings despite not having played much at all in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Close
United States' Coco Gauff: File Photo(AP)
United States' Coco Gauff: File Photo(AP)

Coco Gauff advances to Adelaide International quarterfinals

AP
PUBLISHED ON FEB 24, 2021 04:47 PM IST
The 16-year-old American beat sixth-seeded Petra Martic 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 to advance to the quarterfinals of the hard-court tournament at Memorial Drive.
Close
Britain's Andy Murray.(REUTERS)
Britain's Andy Murray.(REUTERS)

Murray loses 1st ATP Tour match in 4 months in straight sets

AP, Montpellier
PUBLISHED ON FEB 24, 2021 10:48 AM IST
Murray’s lack of match fitness was apparent as he was beaten 7-6 (8), 6-1 by the big-serving Belarusian in one hour and 44 minutes in the first round of the indoor hard-court event in Montpellier.
Close
Tennis - Australian Open - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, February 19, 2021 Russia's Daniil Medvedev reacts during his semi final match against Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas(REUTERS)
Tennis - Australian Open - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, February 19, 2021 Russia's Daniil Medvedev reacts during his semi final match against Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas(REUTERS)

Why Medvedev is the anti-hero tennis needs

PUBLISHED ON FEB 23, 2021 09:49 PM IST
  • The supremely gifted Russian is the perfect candidate to give the sport a big dose of what it has missed since the days of John McEnroe–a shot of spice amid the overload of syrup.
Close
Tennis - Australian Open - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, February 16, 2021 Romania's Simona Halep looks dejected after her quarter final match against Serena Williams of the U.S. REUTERS/Loren Elliott(REUTERS)
Tennis - Australian Open - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, February 16, 2021 Romania's Simona Halep looks dejected after her quarter final match against Serena Williams of the U.S. REUTERS/Loren Elliott(REUTERS)

Simona Halep pulls out of Qatar Open

Reuters
PUBLISHED ON FEB 23, 2021 07:40 PM IST
Halep did not specify why she was pulling out of the March 1-6 hardcourt tournament.
Close
Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates with the trophy after winning his final match against Russia's Daniil Medvedev.(REUTERS)
Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates with the trophy after winning his final match against Russia's Daniil Medvedev.(REUTERS)

Djokovic, Federer, Nadal: The Big Three are all right

By Rutvick Mehta, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON FEB 23, 2021 07:08 AM IST
Women's tennis has found its Next Gen but the men still live under the shadow of the Big Three.
Close
File photo of Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic.(Getty Images)
File photo of Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic.(Getty Images)

Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic: Thin line between the loved and loathed

By Rutvick Mehta
PUBLISHED ON FEB 22, 2021 11:53 PM IST
  • The young woman tennis champion is hailed for speaking out on social issues but the Serb 18-times Grand Slam champion has been criticised for his views.
Close
Ramkumar Ramanathan of India. File(Getty Images for LTA)
Ramkumar Ramanathan of India. File(Getty Images for LTA)

Ramkumar bows out Singapore ATP 250 event

PTI, Singapore
UPDATED ON FEB 22, 2021 01:57 PM IST
Ramkumar, ranked 200, lost 3-6 7-6(3) 3-6 in two hours and six minutes to the American who is ranked 80 places above him.
Close
Australia's Ashleigh Barty celebrates after winning her second-round match against Australia's Daria Gavrilova.(REUTERS)
Australia's Ashleigh Barty celebrates after winning her second-round match against Australia's Daria Gavrilova.(REUTERS)

World number one Barty uncertain of schedule as Osaka closes in

Reuters
PUBLISHED ON FEB 22, 2021 12:25 PM IST
Barty accepted a wildcard to defend her Adelaide International title this week after making an exit at the quarter-final stage of her home Grand Slam with a defeat to Czech Karolina Muchova.
Close
Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates with the trophy after winning his final match against Russia's Daniil Medvedev.(REUTERS)
Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates with the trophy after winning his final match against Russia's Daniil Medvedev.(REUTERS)

Where are Djokovic, Nadal and Federer in all-time men’s Grand Slam winners list?

By hindustantimes.com, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON FEB 22, 2021 10:21 AM IST
How many Grand Slams have Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have won in their careers?
Close
Tennis - Australian Open - Men's Singles Final - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, February 21, 2021 Serbia's Novak Djokovic in action during his final match against Russia's Daniil Medvedev REUTERS/Loren Elliott TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY(REUTERS)
Tennis - Australian Open - Men's Singles Final - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, February 21, 2021 Serbia's Novak Djokovic in action during his final match against Russia's Daniil Medvedev REUTERS/Loren Elliott TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY(REUTERS)

Djokovic faces a sideline spell with muscle tear after sweet success

Reuters, Melbourne
PUBLISHED ON FEB 22, 2021 09:32 AM IST
The 33-year-old extended his own record with an emphatic 7-5 6-2 6-2 victory over Daniil Medvedev at Rod Laver Arena on Sunday, despite carrying the injury suffered in the third round of the tournament.
Close
Serbia's Novak Djokovic kisses the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup at Brighton Beach after defeating Russia's Daniil Medvedev.(AP)
Serbia's Novak Djokovic kisses the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup at Brighton Beach after defeating Russia's Daniil Medvedev.(AP)

No walk in the Park for Novak Djokovic

By Rutvick Mehta, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON FEB 22, 2021 08:03 AM IST
  • A one-sided final notwithstanding, Djokovic braves a 3rd round abdomen injury making it his hardest Slam victory.
Close
Tennis - Australian Open - Men's Singles Final - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, February 21, 2021 Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates with the trophy after winning his final match against Russia's Daniil Medvedev REUTERS/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake(REUTERS)
Tennis - Australian Open - Men's Singles Final - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, February 21, 2021 Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates with the trophy after winning his final match against Russia's Daniil Medvedev REUTERS/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake(REUTERS)

Djokovic will overtake Federer's Grand Slam tally, says coach Ivanisevic

Reuters
PUBLISHED ON FEB 21, 2021 11:01 PM IST
Victory over Daniil Medvedev gave world number one Djokovic his 18th major and the 33-year-old champion is now two shy of Federer and Nadal who have won a men's record 20 each.
Close
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP