Thousands of cheering fans packed the stands on Friday to watch some of tennis’ biggest stars warm up for the Australian Open – with hardly a face mask to be seen.
In an unusual scene for the coronavirus pandemic, the 4,000 crowd sat cheek by jowl as big hitters including Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka emerged from their 14-day quarantine to play exhibition matches ahead of the first grand slam of the year in Melbourne next month.
The scene prompted joy on social media.
“It makes my heart full seeing fans in the stands. Well done Australia!” former world No.1 men’s player Andy Roddick said on his Twitter account.
Australia has now had 12 days without a local infection in any of its states or territories, Health Minister Greg Hunt said at a news conference on Friday.
“That’s a testament (not just) to the work of our medical professionals, our public health teams, but Australians everywhere for the way in which they’ve observed the distancing requirements, the way they have protected each other, the way that they’ve come out for testing,” Hunt told reporters.
Australia’s tough approach to the coronavirus has been controversial ahead of the Open, with some players arriving from overseas frustrated to find themselves in quarantine.
Some took to social media to complain while others issued lists of demands to Australian authorities. But speaking to CNN from quarantine earlier this week, Nadal said that his fellow stars should have a “wider perspective.”
“I feel very sorry for all of them but when we came here, we knew that the measures were going to be strict because we knew that the country is doing great with the pandemic,” Nadal told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday.
To date, Australia has reported 28,800 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, including 909 deaths.
The Australian Open will begin on February 8 in Melbourne and run for two weeks. Friday’s exhibition matches were the official curtain raiser for the international tennis competition, and saw Williams and Novak Djokovic win hard fought matches.