Simona Halep finds the prospect of 14 days of quarantine ahead of the Australian Open daunting but the world number two believes the experience of playing at bio-secure tournaments last year will help her get through it.
The 29-year-old Wimbledon champion had an eventful 2020 season in which she ran up a 17-match winning streak, skipped the US Open over health fears but then contracted the coronavirus.
The start to her 2021 campaign will involve the long journey to Australia in mid-January before two weeks in quarantine ahead of the start of the year's first Grand Slam on Feb. 8.
"I know that it will be hard mentally, but I feel like my experiences in bubbles in 2020 will help me know a little more what to expect," Halep told Reuters, adding she was grateful for the five-hour window to train every day during quarantine.
"I am also less stressed because I know that they have COVID so well under control in Australia and that once we are out of quarantine, we will be free!
"This year in lockdown has meant that we are all a lot more used to spending time inside than we used to be."
Halep's last competitive match was at the French Open in early October and she will hope to get some matches under her belt in a WTA 500 event at Melbourne Park to warm up for the hardcourt Grand Slam.
With the Asian swing, including the season-ending WTA Finals, cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, it was a long pre-season but Halep said she had enjoyed being at home and let her body and mind recover from a stressful year.
"I worked a lot on my fitness," Halep said in an email interview. "I have to take care of my body now more than ever so lots of strengthening exercises and speed work, and from the beginning of December we really stepped up the work on court.
"Lots of drills and repetition and now finally I am playing sets against other Romanian girls, getting ready for the first matches in Australia."
Halep had skipped the hardcourt swing in the United States due to concerns over the pandemic and her worst fears were realised when she contracted the virus in October.
"I didn't get too sick with it thankfully but, of course, as a professional athlete, I was worried about my lungs so we did lots of tests and everything was great," the 2018 French Open winner said.
Halep was not able to add to her two Grand Slam successes in 2020 during which young American Sofia Kenin and Iga Swiatek from Poland announced themselves with first major titles.
Halep did, however, win titles in Dubai, Prague and Rome.
"I look back on my 2020 season with pride and a sense of achievement, especially given the circumstances with COVID-19," said Halep, who aims to play both singles and doubles at the Tokyo Olympics and win a medal.
"When the season shut down ... it was unclear if we could play any tennis at all in 2020. That was tough mentally. It gave me some time to appreciate tennis, to be grateful when we were given the chance to play again."
Top three men, women to quarantine in Adelaide ahead of Australian Open
Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will be among top men and women players heading to Adelaide to serve their 14-day mandatory quarantine before travelling to Melbourne for next month's Australian Open, organisers have said.
Hundreds of players and entourages will arrive in Australia from Jan. 15 and undergo a mandatory, 14-day quarantine as part of COVID-19 health protocols before the Feb. 8-21 Australian Open at Melbourne Park.
Tennis Australia Chief Executive Craig Tiley said the organisers needed a second city to ensure they did not exceed the limit set by the authorities for people quarantining in Melbourne.
Adelaide will now host the top three men and women players, including Ash Barty and Simona Halep, who will also play an exhibition event before heading to Melbourne for warmup events to be played at the Australian Open venue from Jan. 31.
"We approached the South Australian government about the possibility of them quarantining at least 50 people," Tiley told Tennis Channel.
"But they wouldn't have any interest in doing it, because there's no benefit to them to put their whole community at risk.
"But it would be a benefit if there was an exhibition just before Melbourne. So we chose the top three men and top three women and they'll play an exhibition on the 29th and 30th of January."
The players will be allowed five hours outside their hotel rooms to train during the 14-day quarantine and Tiley confirmed that health regulations would be the same in Adelaide.
South Australia Premier Steven Marshall said the exhibition event was a "massive win" for the state.
"We have been working really hard with Tennis Australia," Marshall said. "We will have some of the top seeds playing right here ahead of the Australian Open."
Tiley said he expected Melbourne Park, which saw about 800,000 people attend the Grand Slam last year, to have 50% to 75% of its normal capacity of fans in February.
Rod Laver will, however, not be one of them this year at Melbourne Park, which has its main showcourt named after the Australian great.
"I've made a decision to stay home this year and sadly will miss the Aus Open," Laver, the only player ever to win all four major tennis championships in a calendar year twice, said on Twitter.
"I'm really looking forward to seeing tennis start up again in my house at RLA (Rod Laver Arena) and will have a virtual front row seat! Best wishes to everyone competing and to Tennis Australia for making it happen."