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With quarantines almost over, tennis set to start Down Under

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

FILE - In this Jan. 24, 2020, file photo, Serena Williams of the U.S. plays a shot to China's Wang Qiang in their third round singles match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia. A coronavirus-forced quarantine has mostly finished in Melbourne and Adelaide. That will mean most of the worlds top tennis players will go from two of the quietest weeks of their lives in Australia to three of the busiest. It was a controversial start to the government-mandated quarantine ahead of the Australian Open beginning Feb. 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man, File)

With a coronavirus-enforced quarantine coming to an end, the world’s elite tennis players will go from two of the quietest weeks of their lives in Australia to three of the busiest.

The government-mandated quarantine ahead of the Feb. 8-21 Australian Open had a controversial start.

Some players complained bitterly after being forced into hard lockdown because passengers on their charter flights to Melbourne tested positive for COVID-19, and a letter from top-ranked Novak Djokovic to tournament officials offering his suggested rule changes sparked public backlash. The 14-day period of isolation for most players was scheduled to end from late Thursday and early Friday local time.

And with it came some plaudits from Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal.

“It’s super, super strict . . . insane and super intense, but they are doing it right,” Williams said of the quarantine in an interview with The Late Show’s Stephen Colbert. “It’s definitely hard with a three-year old (her daughter Olympia), but it’s worth it because you want everyone to be safe.”

The No. 2-ranked Nadal told CNN that international tennis players needed to maintain a “wider perspective on what’s going on in the world,” although he sympathized with the 72 players who were deemed to be close contacts of positive coronavirus cases from three charter flights and who had to stay in their rooms for 24 hours a day and could not practice.

“When we came here we knew the measures were going to be strict,” Nadal said. “We knew the country is doing great with the pandemic. Australia is probably one of the best examples in the world ... how they react through very challenging times.”

Indeed, Australia has done well. Due to strict incoming traveler quarantines, limited movement between states and a previous hard lockdown of more than 4 million people in Melbourne when a second wave got out of control in Victoria state, Australia has had only 909 deaths attributed to COVID-19. And 820 of them were in Victoria — most during that second deadly wave when overnight curfews were put in place and use of masks made compulsory outside of home.