Australian Open 2021: Jamie Murray on Melbourne life, quarantine & Football Manager



Jamie Murray BBC Sport Columnist graphic

Venue: Melbourne Park Dates: 8-21 February
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra and online; Live text on selected matches on the BBC Sport website and app.

Great Britain’s seven-time Grand Slam doubles champion Jamie Murray is in Melbourne for the Australian Open. In the first of his regular columns for BBC Sport, the Scot talks about arriving in a country where coronavirus has been contained, concerns over the tournament and his obsession with Football Manager.

All of the players are thankful for the chance to be here for the Australian Open with the opportunity to compete at another Grand Slam.

These three weeks will probably be the best weeks we have on the tour for a while, so we’re all ready to get stuck in.

Once we had completed our 14-day quarantine period it was weird getting out and going into this Covid-free world in Melbourne.

It just shows how your behaviours change depending on your set of conditions.

For the past year in Britain, we have had to wear masks all the time and not socialise with anyone other than our household.

On the streets back home, everyone has their head down and you body-swerve and scuttle past people.

Here, you can do pretty much what you want.

People walking along the Yarra River in Melbourne
Australia has imposed some of the world’s toughest restrictions over the past year in a bid to suppress coronavirus. The state of Victoria – of which Melbourne is the capital – has reported 20,452 cases and 820 deaths.

You still have to wear masks indoors in a public place. If you go to a restaurant you have to sign in at the door and in some of the restaurants you order online and they bring you the food.

Eating in restaurants gets taken for granted, especially when you’re travelling to play tournaments, but I haven’t been able to do that for ages.

When the ATP Tour resumed in August last year we weren’t allowed out anywhere at events. It was just yourself and your team on the courts or in the hotel.

So to be able to go out and feel there is an atmosphere again is really nice.

You’re able to mix with who you want here in Melbourne and you don’t have to stay in your bubble. So I’ve been out with my friends that live here and the British guys are all planning to go out for a dinner before the Australian Open starts.

Seeing other people is a great feeling. Hopefully the restrictions back home will be able to be eased sooner rather than later so you can enjoy more freedom again too.

Having said that, I think the buzz of a Melbourne summer is still missing.

The city always has a fun vibe around the Australian Open which – in normal circumstances – takes place in the summer holidays here.

Melbourne Park is located right in the city centre, just a short walk along the Yarra River from Flinders Street station – the main train station – and Fed Square, which usually has a big fan park.

This year, everything definitely feels quieter. It seems like those who usually work in the city are still working at home, but I’ve not been out to the beach so I’m not sure how busy that is.

Either way, there is still a lot more activity here than there is at home in Britain.

Once these tournaments in Melbourne have finished we have got to go back to Europe and things will be very different again – either a lockdown or a tournament bubble.

So I want to go into the city a little bit more and to maximise the opportunity of having some freedom and relative normality.

People walk around the shops and cafes in Melbourne's Central Business District
Melbourne’s streets are busy, but not as bustling as they usually would be during the Australian Open

‘Everyone has been on edge after hotel scare’

There has been further disruption to the tournament this week with 160 players being told to isolate again until they had taken another coronavirus test and returned a negative result.

That news came on Wednesday night after a worker at one of the hotels where some of the players did their quarantine tested positive.

I wasn’t in that hotel – the Grand Hyatt in Melbourne’s Central Business District. I was staying in another hotel close to Albert Park, which is just outside the city centre and where the Formula 1 race is usually held.

Everyone who stayed in the Hyatt was a little bit on edge after that news. They had to get up on Thursday, take a test and wait for their result.

People were worried about what effect it would have on the Australian Open and whether they would have to go into quarantine again.

We know the government here could potentially shut down the tournament at any moment if things get out of control.

Hopefully all the tests comes back negative and we can get on with things.

Players queue for a coronavirus test at a hotel in Melbourne
People connected to the Australian Open queued for coronavirus tests at a Melbourne hotel on Thursday

What it is like travelling across the world in a pandemic

My preparations for the Australian Open started by leaving London in early January and training in Dubai for five days, before catching the chartered flight from there to Melbourne.

There was about 50 or 60 people on the flight, including players, coaches and staff from the Association of Tennis Professionals, Women’s Tennis Association and the International Tennis Federation. So it was pretty empty and there was loads of space.

When we arrived in Melbourne, there was a private terminal and we went through the arrival protocols in one big hanger.

Everyone there was wearing personal protective equipment – gloves, face masks, face shields, glasses. They were taking no risks.

Then we were transferred on to the buses to our hotels and the checking-in process was a strange situation.

Only one person could enter the hotel at a time, you gave your name at reception and then you were escorted to the lift. Someone opened the lift for you, you weren’t allowed to touch the button, they radioed to a colleague to say you were going up to your floor, then a security guard on the floor met you and took you to the room.

We were in the room for two and a half days before we were allowed out. After that, we were allowed out for five hours each day.

We had an app on our phones where every night we would get our schedule for the next day.

Some mornings we practised from 7am to 9am so we’d get picked up outside the room door at 6.45am and escorted to the court for a two-hour session.

After that, someone would escort us to a gym pod and then back to the hotel for one hour of nutrition – again in your own pod. Then it was back to the room until you were allowed out the following day.

I was a lot luckier than most players. My flight didn’t have any issues, so I didn’t have to do a ‘hard’ quarantine and I had a good view out across the city.

But I still had plenty of time to pass particularly in those two and a half days where I couldn’t leave the room. So I got back into playing Football Manager.

I hadn’t played it for years. But with the detail the game goes into now you can kill so much time playing it.

You get so absorbed in it. I have even been watching YouTube videos about which players to sign and highlighting different tactics.

I’ve been managing AFC Wimbledon – I picked them because they are my local team – and I got them promoted to the Championship.

In fact, AFC Wimbledon are searching for a new manager in real life. Somehow I don’t think this qualifies me to throw my hat into the ring… I’ll stick to tennis!

AFC Wimbledon
Murray describes himself as a “proactive and adaptable” football manager, with Dons pair Joe Pigott and Will Nightingale among his star players

Jamie Murray was talking to BBC Sport’s Jonathan Jurejko

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