Having copped some fearsome social media serves from disgruntled tennis stars, Craig Tiley was now getting peppered directly by the world’s best players.
But after listening to the complaints, suggestions and even compliments from 500 Australian Open competitors, the tournament director has a defiant message.
It’s game on amid a global pandemic and “we will send a signal to the world.”
Tiley on Tuesday gave an extensive update to reporters on the state of the tournament after a chaotic five days that “felt like one year.”
There are 72 players in a hard lockdown hotel quarantine after arriving in Australia on three flights that included COVID-positive passengers.
No players have tested positive yet but “there are several cases of viral shedding where you’ll get a positive read,” Tiley said.
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“You’ll test positive for several months and that’s just picking up the viral fragments.”
Tiley and his AO organising team hosted a video conference including 500 players on Monday night.
The tournament start time will not change, nor will men’s five sets become three.
And the tennis boss wanted to return serve to the social media whingers complaining about the prison-like existence of hotel quarantine.
“We had 500 players last night on a group chat where anyone could ask questions, complaints,” Tiley told reporters.
“We stood as a team and we took them – and there were some big hits that we took. But there were also some compliments and a scroll of ‘thank yous’, from all the stars. What really upset me probably last night the most was if you’ve got a complaint, blame me.
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“Don’t go out on social media and take it out on the staff, Melbourne community or Australia – don’t do that. If you want to have a crack, come to me. Not at someone that’s been working around the clock, that hurts. What are you trying to achieve? You’re not solving the problem.”
Tiley did go on to admit that many players had legitimate complaints and that the game’s leading lights, based in Adelaide, were getting a leg up on their rivals.
“I get the feeling it is perceived as preferential treatment,” Tiley said.
“But they’re the top players in the world. My general rule is if you’re at the top of the game, a Grand Slam champion, it’s just the nature of the business. You are going to get a better deal.”
After the initial “shock” of being forced into hard lockdown, Tiley believed most players were starting to get their head around the setback and adapting to their new reality.
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He admitted he and his team had moments questioning whether the tournament would – or should – go ahead.
“There were moments that we would talk to each other and say ‘do we really need to do this, is it really going to be feasible?’ But the Australian attitude is ‘give it a go’ which I think is fantastic.”
Tiley admitted there were risks in spreading the virus while forging ahead with such a large scale event.
So why go ahead?
“We will send a signal to the world that Melbourne is the events capital of the world, the sporting events capital of the world and the signal will be a successful Australian Open and successful events leading in,” he said, adding that he hoped the AO could act as a beacon for the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“There hasn’t been a sporting event yet, in the height of the pandemic, that has brought in people and athletes to this extent.
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“The virus could pop its ugly head again but at the moment it is pretty good (in Melbourne).
“I would hope it gives the Olympics confidence that it can be done.”
Tiley also said that players who had experienced the hard lockdown would be given favourable treatment when they emerged from their hotel rooms.
“It’s certainly an advantage,” Tiley said of those not in hard lockdown.
“The difference is significant.
“I used to coach and it takes a couple of weeks at least to get to maximum preparedness.
“I certainly think those in lockdown, we’ll have a great deal of empathy for supporting them.
“Look at scheduling, practice courts, times, availability – they will have the priority.”