Melbourne, January 14: Nearly 12,000 kilometers (7,500 miles) from Melbourne, the qualifying tournament has been completed for the Australian Open, with 16 men and 16 women set to join the singles main draw beginning February 8.
That's a three-week delay from the original start date for the season-open tennis major because of quarantine protocols in place in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The qualifiers join the group of players who'll begin arriving Thursday (January 14) on 15 charter flight and immediately go into a 14-day quarantine. Due to virus restrictions in place for arriving passengers into Australia, the women's qualifying was held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and the men's qualifying was in Doha, Qatar.
The women qualifiers include two-time Australian Open and Roland Garros doubles champion Timea Babos of Hungary and British player Francesca Jones, who has a rare genetic condition.
Jones has ectrodactyly ectodermal dysplasia, which means she was born with three fingers and a thumb on each hand, three toes on her right foot and four toes on her left. On the men's side, the qualifiers include 17-year-old ATP newcomer of the year, Carlos Alcaraz of Spain.
Six women and six men will also travel to Australia as lucky losers and undergo mandatory quarantine like the rest of the international players, hoping to get a place in the main draw if another player is injured or withdraws. There are 104 direct entries based on rankings for the men's and women's singles main draw, plus wild-card entries and the qualifiers.
The COVID-19 protocols in place for the Australian Open include all players having to return a negative test before boarding their flight to Australia, further testing on arrival and isolation until the results are received. The 15 flights will be at no more than 25% capacity, and will arrive over a 36-hour period ending early Saturday (January 16).
Once a negative result has been returned, players can train within a strictly supervised environment for five-hours per day, and players and their teams will be tested every day during quarantine.
The Australian Open draw will be held on February 4, four days ahead of the start of the main tournament, which ends February 21 with the men's singles final. Novak Djokovic is the defending men's champion and Sofia Kenin is the women's defending champion.