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Sports

'So excited': fans return to Australian Open after snap lockdown

  • "I was just fed up. It was such a long year last year and then the five days (of lockdown), just all of a sudden. It was pretty depressing."
Published February 18, 2021

MELBOURNE: Excited fans drifted back to the Australian Open Thursday after a snap five-day lockdown in Melbourne was eased, determined to create some atmosphere over the final days of a tournament severely disrupted by the coronavirus.

The already-delayed opening Grand Slam of the year was plunged into yet more chaos last week when Australia's second most populous city was ordered behind closed doors after a new Covid-19 cluster.

Even before the latest roadblock, the sprawling Melbourne Park complex on the banks of the Yarra River had been operating with a limit of just 30,000 spectators a day -- less than half -- under coronavirus restrictions.

With far fewer matches scheduled Thursday, the cap has now been set at just under 7,500 per session, half the capacity of the Rod Laver Arena centre court.

And with the new outbreak, which centred on a hotel near Melbourne airport, appearing to be contained, fans jumped at the chance to return.

"Look I'm really excited to be coming back," Melbourne local Beatrice Leonard told AFP.

"I was just fed up. It was such a long year last year and then the five days (of lockdown), just all of a sudden. It was pretty depressing."

On a scorching hot day headlined by a blockbuster clash between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, they were happy not only for themselves but the players, who have been performing to canned applause instead of the roar of a crowd for the past five days.

"It's good for the players to have a bit of atmosphere. It gives them a bit of up and go," said Linda Clupland, as people slowly returned to what had been an eerily quiet Melbourne Park.

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