Empty Open an adjustment for players

·3-min read

From a buzzy night match at Rod Laver Arena to playing in an empty stadium, Elina Svitolina has described a fan-free Australian Open as "disturbing and sad".

When she took to the Margaret Court Arena on Saturday, the world No.5 was among the first players in round-three action at Melbourne Park since Victoria was plunged into a snap five-day lockdown after a COVID-19 outbreak.

The midpoint of the year's first major, the first Saturday is usually the most popular with crowds, with last year's attendance a record 93,709 people through the gates.

Their five-day absence is a massive blow for organisers already taking a huge hit with reduced capacity.

In a sign that players are not being given any special treatment, Serbian Filip Krajinovic was given a code violation by the umpire for not wearing a mask while leaving the court for a toilet break midway through his match with Daniil Medvedev.

Ukrainian Svitolina swept aside Yulia Putintseva of Kazahstan 6-4 6-0 with the Open venue eerily quiet, with only officials, ball kids and the players' support staff permitted.

Svitolina, who has reached the quarter-finals twice at the Open and is a two-time major semi-finalist, said it was tough to adjust.

"It was very different conditions - I played a night match at 7pm with a good crowd and now it was completely different," Svitolina said.

"It was for sure a bit disturbing, I would say, in some ways sad but it is what it is."

The 26-year-old said it felt like a practice match, and she had to force herself to switch on.

"I tried to convince myself that it's a grand slam and that we are playing an important match and I have to focus," she said.

Svitolina said it was tougher for the losing player, without the crowds there to urge them on.

"When you are down, you feel like you're almost alone here," said the former world No.3.

"People give you energy, they are supporting you, they are trying to get you back into the match."

The first match to be completed under the new conditions was the Friday night clash between world No.1 Novak Djokovic and American Taylor Fritz.

The match was bizarrely halted at 11.30pm when the pair were in the heat of battle in the fourth set while the crowd was cleared so fans could get home in time for the midnight lockdown deadline.

"Nothing surprises me any more with what we're experiencing globally," said Djokovic when asked about the enforced mid-match exodus.

"Obviously, it's a unique experience for me - to play half of the match in front of a crowd and half of the match without the crowd. I've never experienced anything like that before.

"I'm just hoping that, for my own sake, I'll be able to play and, for the sake of this tournament, we'll be able to have a crowd very quickly."

Tournament boss Craig Tiley expects crowds to be permitted to return on Thursday at the end of the five-day lockdown and at this stage was not offering refunds beyond that date.

"I fully expect to say that we can have crowds back, how many is yet to be determined," Tiley told Channel Nine.

"We are providing refunds for the next five days and we are holding everything for Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday which were almost sellouts."