Tennis

Fans banned from Australian Open after discovery of Covid cluster

Australian Grand Slam Open will continue under the restrictions but fans will no longer be permitted
Australian Grand Slam Open will continue under the restrictions but fans will no longer be permitted David Gray AFP

Fans will be barred from watching the tennis at the Australian Open in Melbourne from Saturday after provincial authorities ordered a five day ban on public gatherings in order to fight a coronavirus cluster of the highly contagious UK variant.

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The 13 Covid-19 infections were linked to a quarantine hotel in Melbourne, the capital of Victoria state.

"We must assume that there are further cases in the community than we have positive results for,” said state premier Daniel Andrews.

“And that it is moving at a velocity that has not been seen anywhere in our country over the course of these last 12 months.”

As well as public gatherings, weddings and religious services will also be suspended as part of what Andrews described as a short, sharp circuit breaker.

Defending the decision to allow the tennis to continue at Melbourne Park, Andrews said the first Grand Slam tournament of the year was considered a workplace, subject to lockdown restrictions.

"There are no fans. There are no crowds. These people are essentially at their workplace," he said. "The minimum number of staff for it to be run safely - not just for the virus but other reasons - will be there.”

The event, which began on 8 February, was limited to 50 percent of its usual capacity. Its start was delayed from the middle of January in order to allow players and their entourages enough time to undergo Australia's strict quarantine rules.

Serena Williams victorious

"We'll continue to follow the directions of the department of health as well as the government,” said tournament director Craig Tiley.

“Play will continue. The players will compete in a bubble form not dissimilar to what they've been doing right throughout the year.”

During Friday’s action, 10th seed Serena Williams continued her quest for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title with a 7-6, 6-2 third round victory over the unseeded Russian Anastasia Potapova.

Former world number ones Garbine Muguruza and Naomi Osaka also moved into the fourth round with straight sets wins over Zarina Diyas and Ons Jabeur respectively.

In the men’s event, sixth seed Alexander Zverev advanced to the last 16 after disposing of the Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.

The German won 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 to set up a meeting with the 23rd seed Dusan Lajovic who saw off the Spaniard Pedro Martinez in four sets.

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