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Djokovic hit, Australian Open tensions run high

Novak Djokovic gestures from his hotel balcony in Adelaide, one of the locations where players are quarantined for two weeks ahead of the Australian Open in Melbourne*

Australia’s Nick Kyrgios dismissed world number one Novak Djokovic as a “tool” as a backlash grew against tennis players flown in for the Australian Open during a raging pandemic.

Kyrgios joined a wave of criticism of the Serb for reportedly issuing a list of demands for quarantined players who have arrived in Melbourne and Adelaide on chartered flights.

The arrival of more than 1,000 players and staff, including four people who tested positive, has raised hackles in a country which is largely coronavirus-free, and especially in Melbourne which came out of a four-month lockdown in October.

“Djokovic is a tool,” Kyrgios tweeted, after the Serb led a chorus of player complaints about conditions in locked-down hotel rooms.

At least 72 players have been barred from leaving their rooms for two weeks after coronavirus cases were detected on their charter flights into the country.

Nick Kyrgios*

Others are allowed out of their rooms for up to five hours a day to train under strictly-controlled conditions.

The 33-year-old Serb and reigning Australian Open champion is among several stars – others include Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Rafael Nadal – who were allowed to fly into Adelaide where they enjoy better facilities such as balconies on their hotel rooms, unlike the majority in Melbourne, the Australian Open’s host city.

But Djokovic reportedly issued a list of demands in a letter to Tennis Australia that included moving quarantined players into private homes with tennis courts and getting them better meals.

Australian media zeroed in on the demands, portraying them as petulant and selfish, while showing images of Djokovic not wearing a mask in a players’ minibus, which would be required in most taxis and rideshares in Australia.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews smashed back Djokovic’s demands. “There’s no special treatment here. Because the virus doesn’t treat you specially, so neither do we,” he said on Monday.

In Australia, many are also questioning why the players and staff were flown in for the event, when tens of thousands of Australians remain stranded overseas.

Meanwhile, Kyrgios also took aim at fellow Australian player Bernard Tomic’s girlfriend, Vanessa Sierra, after she complained in an online video about cold food and having to wash her own hair in quarantine.

“I don’t mind Bernie but his Mrs obviously has no perspective, ridiculous scenes,” Kyrgios said on Twitter.

Djokovic’s actions around the tournament are being closely watched, in part due to his seeming nonchalance about the virus in the past.

Last year, the 17-time major champion organized a series of exhibition events in the Balkans at which social distancing was minimal.

He and several other players later tested positive for the virus, as well as his wife Jelena. Despite the controversies, the Australian Open is due to begin in Melbourne on February 8, having already been delayed three weeks.*AFP

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