Snap lockdown empties Australian Open stands

Snap lockdown empties Australian Open stands

Tennis stars will play to empty seats again as Melbourne battles new outbreak

Fans leave the Australian Open on Friday night after Victoria state authorities announced a surprise five-day lockdown following the discovery of a handful of Covid cases at a hotel. (Reuters Photo)
Fans leave the Australian Open on Friday night after Victoria state authorities announced a surprise five-day lockdown following the discovery of a handful of Covid cases at a hotel. (Reuters Photo)

MELBOURNE: Play was suspended temporarily at the Australian Open on Friday night as fans were told to leave the Rod Laver Arena to comply with a surprise five-day lockdown across Victoria state.

Top seed Novak Djokovic was up two sets to one, but struggling with an injury, against American Taylor Fritz when play was halted at 11.30pm local time and fans were asked to leave.

The five-day lockdown, ordered after a new Covid-19 outbreak at a hotel, was due to start at midnight.

After a short delay while fans made their way to the exits, play resumed and Djokovic gutted out a five-set win, 7-6 (1) 6-4 3-6 4-6 6-2 to reach the fourth round.

The crowd were removed midway through the fourth set as the lockdown came into effect.

But Djokovic, despite still looking in discomfort, did enough to win the deciding set and live to fight another day.

A departing Nick Kyrgios, meanwhile, thrilled the crowd one last time. Thousands of fans, mostly unmasked, watched the flamboyant Australian flame out over five sets against US Open champion Dominic Thiem, who clawed his way back from two sets down.

Public announcements warned fans to be home by midnight, when 6 million people across Victoria state go into a five-day lockdown to curb an outbreak of the highly contagious UK strain.

The Australian Open, which has encountered severe coronavirus problems and started three weeks late, was the first tennis Grand Slam to welcome fans in large numbers since the pandemic.

But it will continue behind closed doors and with players in a biosecure “bubble” during the five-day lockdown, after the cluster of 13 cases centred on an airport hotel.

“It’s rough. It’s going to be a rough few days for everyone,” said America’s Serena Williams, who learned of the lockdown when she came off court.

“It’s not ideal — it’s been really fun now with the crowd back. But at the end of the day we have to do what’s best.”

With 22,299 spectators on Friday, the best attendance so far, Williams and Naomi Osaka safely reached the last 16 along with fellow major-winner Simona Halep.

Kyrgios, the main attraction for Australian fans, threatened a titanic upset against third-ranked Thiem before going down 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.

“Tonight was epic and a good last match before lockdown, it’s sad to say,” said Thiem, who next plays Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov.


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