The world is looking on with envy as the Australian summer of tennis finally got underway at Memorial Drive in Adelaide on Friday.
And who can blame them.
There were 4000 cheering fans watching on as Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Rafael Nadal hit the court after completing their 14 days in quarantine.
Australian sport got the upper hand on the pandemic towards the end of 2020, with major football codes the NRL and AFL able to include restricted crowds inside stadiums, while the summer of cricket also included large crowds for the Border-Gavaskar trophy test series between Australia and India.
But Friday’s exhibition event is the first staging of an international sporting event in Australia since the COVID-19 pandemic began — and the images of the world’s best tennis stars playing in front of fans is understandably leaving tennis fans around the world looking on with awe about Australia’s success in dealing with the global virus.
Superstar Maria Sharapova was one of many high-profile tennis figures to take to social media to celebrate the glorious sight of tennis returning after nightmare years for the ATP and WTA tours.
Djokovic, Williams, Nadal and Osaka all spoke passionately after their matches about what it means to them to be back playing in front of fans.
“First of all, thank you so much for coming out and making our day and making our year,” Djokovic said.
“We didn’t play in front of this much crowd for 12 months, so this is definitely something very special.”
Djokovic has come under fire for being the most vocal critic of the 14-day hotel quarantine period many players completed in hard lockdown — but he appeared to accept the logic behind it when speaking to the Adelaide crowd.
Djokovic was last week torched by Aussie Nick Kyrgios for his public complaints — but he was glowing about Australia on Friday.
“Everyone was so caring and welcoming to us,” he said.
“I know it’s a difficult time for the entire planet. Everything is suffering. I’m just grateful that in front of all the players that we have an opportunity to be here. It wasn’t easy obviously, 14 days, being constrained to the room and a few hours to train, but in the end of the day it was worth it, because you guys made it very special today for us. Thank you so much.”
Serena Williams even thanked Australia for allowing tennis stars to come from all over the world to compete in front of a crowd.
“We haven’t played in front of a crowd in over a year so it’s been a really long time,” she said.
“So this is really cool and then for having us and trusting us with your laws was great. We were so happy just to be here. Now it’s worth it.”
Osaka said: “Just really thanks for coming out. I haven’t seen people in — it feels like forever.
“So just to play in front of you guys is really amazing.”
After beating Dominic Thiem in straight sets, Nadal also praised Australia’s approach to the pandemic.
“It’s been a very a hard year for all the world in general,” he said. “For us in Spain, we were hit very hard by the virus. We’re still in a very tough situation. I think Australia is an amazing, positive example about how to make things the right way to control the pandemic, so many congratulations to the country.
“Last two weeks have been great, honestly, of course it’s not ideal to stay 14 days under quarantine but that’s the way that we need to do the things today.
“We can’t thank enough South Australia, we can’t thank enough Tennis Australia.”
He said it had been “amazing” to play again in front of a crowd, which he had missed.
Many tennis commentators complimented Australia on being able to stage such a big event during the pandemic — but the sight also angered many after the images exposed the failures of many other countries to take the action needed to slow the spread of the virus.
Aussie tennis great Casey Dellacqua told Channel 9 in commentary the Day at the Drive event in Adelaide is just as special for fans as it is for the players.
“That’s the one thing the players have said, they are just so excited to be out here playing in front of the fans,” she said.
“That’s what we play for. That’s what the sport is about.”
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