Jennifer Brady lone player from 'hard quarantine' group to move past third round at Aussie Open

American Jennifer Brady was the only player from the pre-tournament hard quarantine group to make it past the third round of the 2021 Australian Open. Photo by TPN/Getty Images

MELBOURNE, Australia -- It's not ideal when some of those preparing for a Grand Slam aren't afforded the same preparation as others. But before this year's Australian Open, after positive cases were detected from one of the handful of chartered flights to Australia, dozens of players and support staff were informed they would be required to spend 14 days in "hard quarantine," during which they would be unable to leave their rooms -- some of which had windows that couldn't be opened -- even for exercise.

Australian Open organizers were adamant that players and support staff were made aware that should a positive case be identified and linked to any of the flights, they would all be required to isolate for 14 days, though some players probably didn't realize how hard that would be.

Of course, it's understandable they were upset, given they were not afforded the same -- or even similar -- preparations as those who were not considered "close contacts" of positive cases. Those not in hard lockdown were allowed to practice, under strict supervision, for up to five hours a day.

As a way to ease the frustrations of players who were locked inside, both the ATP and WTA made adjustments to their lead-up calendars; on the men's side, events were postponed by 24 hours to allow those in hard quarantine the chance to get match fit, while the WTA created an additional tournament specifically for those on the women's side who couldn't leave their rooms.

But did the hard lockdowns affect the tennis of those who endured the extra hardship?

Looking at the numbers, it could be concluded that those who were unable to leave their hotel rooms for 14 days were disproportionately eliminated from the tournament early. Just one of 55 singles players who endured hard quarantine made it into the fourth round.

But that one player was eventual women's runner-up Jennifer Brady, who brushed off concerns about the effects of the lockdown when asked about it after her straight-sets loss against Naomi Osaka in Saturday's women's final.

"I made my first Grand Slam final, so maybe if I wasn't in quarantine I would have won," she joked. "I don't think it really hampered me much. Who knows?"

Earlier in the tournament, she said the mental toll of the lockdown was hampering her more than the physical aspect.

"A lot of people were complaining, and I told myself I wasn't going to complain," she said after her fourth-round victory against Donna Vekic. "There's way worse things going on in the world than me being stuck in a hotel room for 14 days.

"Tennis Australia provided us with a bike. The last few days I had a treadmill. I had weights. I was able to train to work out. It was a small hotel room, but I was able to do everything that I needed to do to stay as fit as possible.

"If I started feeling bad for myself or started complaining, I think it would have made the 14 days a lot harder than it was. There were a couple of us that were pretty positive and tried to each day be like, 'OK, only five more days and we're out.'"

No. 22 seed Brady aside, the top women were more affected than the world's best men, as 11 of the 12 seeded women were eliminated by the end of the third round.

Victoria Azarenka (No. 13 seed), Maria Sakkari (20), former winner Angelique Kerber (23) and Alison Riske (24) all lost in the first round, while No. 8 seed Bianca Andreescu and No. 17 seed Elena Rybakina fell in the second round. Five more seeded women were ousted in the third round.

Two-time Australian Open champion Azarenka said it was hard not to feel impacted by the lack of training in the lead-up to the Slam.

"I knew I can play better, a lot better," she said after her first-round loss to American Jessica Pegula. "At the same time, I feel that I've tried everything I can to be able to be prepared; but unfortunately, that hasn't worked out for me."

Kerber, who won the Australian Open in 2016, said her on-court rhythm was most affected by the lack of practice.

"I was feeling this at the beginning, that of course my balls are always a little bit out and I was not feeling the rhythm that I was before the two weeks, to be honest," Kerber said.

"When I'm looking back, of course I [had] not planned the two weeks' hard quarantine. I don't know. Maybe if I knew that before to stay really two weeks in the hard quarantine without hitting a ball, maybe I would think twice about that. If I knew the real situation before my trip, I would think maybe twice to come here."

Spanish player Paula Badosa was one of the quarantine system's harshest critics when she arrived in Melbourne, initially saying tournament organizers weren't clear about what was in store for the athletes. Badosa later tested positive for COVID-19 and was required to go through the hard quarantine.

After her first-round loss, she said she was "totally against the clock" in trying to regain match fitness before the Australian Open.

"I didn't feel like that bad in tennis, but the first days, I was training 40 minutes. Like my body was very, like, slow. It was tough for me to recover," Badosa said. "I think my level, it's not even 70% that I was before. I'm a little sad or disappointed on that."

Belinda Bencic, the No. 11 seed, agreed: "The body feels worse, the tennis feels worse, the reaction, the instincts, everything is worse," she said after her first-round win over Lauren Davis.

Bencic then defeated Russian veteran Svetlana Kuznetsova in the second round. (Davis and Kuznetsova also underwent hard quarantine.) Bencic fell in the third round to 18th-seeded Elise Mertens.

Badosa said she would refuse to play at any other tournaments that require a 14-day quarantine system.

"[I wouldn't repeat it] because I lost a lot my level," she said. "I'm sad for the match, but I'm even more sad because I lost the level that I've been working so hard these two months in preseason."

On the men's side, not one of the 29 players who went through hard quarantine made it past the second round.

But while 12 women's seeds were forced to abide by the hard lockdown requirements, just one male seeded player was affected: 25th-seeded Benoit Paire. The French player was beaten in the first round and was extremely critical of the way the tournament was organized.

In quotes translated from France's L'Equipe, Paire said the hard lockdown was "shameful."

"This tournament, frankly, I think it's really crap," he said. "This match, I could have won it if I had had one or two more training sessions, a normal preparation.

"I don't quite understand what ATP is doing. It becomes borderline grotesque. For me, tennis is not that. Frankly, I'm not enjoying it."

Aside from Paire, six of the 29 men in hard quarantine were "lucky losers" -- players who failed to qualify but made the main draw via another player's withdrawal -- while 14 were qualifiers.

France's Kristina Mladenovic, who was not among those in hard quarantine, said that although players were generally happy to adhere to Australia's strict entry requirements to play in a Grand Slam, she did not think it was sustainable for the entire tennis calendar.

"I don't think it's possible, technically, to do every time two weeks for every tournament, otherwise we wouldn't have time," the world No. 52 said. "We wouldn't have enough tournaments. But because this is the first one of the year and it's important, it's a Grand Slam, we all accepted the challenge."