Covid turning tennis into a job: Australia's John Millman
World No. 39 says the new normal on the ATP Tour is challenging, Cilic highlights virus' financial impact
Playing under Covid-19 conditions has "turned tennis much more into a job", said world No. 39 John Millman yesterday.
The ATP Tour was upended by the coronavirus pandemic, with tournaments cancelled from early March till late August last year.
When play resumed, conditions were significantly different, with hotel quarantines before tournament action the new order of the day.
At this month's Australian Open, the year's first Grand Slam, the frustration with the new normal remained palpable.
World No. 13 Roberto Bautista Agut likened the quarantine to prison "with Wi-Fi", while world No. 1 Novak Djokovic wrote to organisers requesting a shorter isolation period and asked for players to be put up in "private houses with tennis courts".
Australian Millman - who is in town for the Singapore Tennis Open, which began yesterday - said that with his country's strict Covid-19 quarantine protocol, playing on the ATP Tour could result in him spending the next nine to 10 months away from his family, if the coronavirus situation does not improve.
He said: "It's not the most unbelievable conditions for your mental and physical health, I don't think, by being confined to a hotel and tennis courts. Doing that backwards and forwards for nine months could be really tough...
"I can tell you last year, it was really tough.
"I was one of the ones that went away... for about 4½ months when Tour resumed last year, and I found it a really challenging experience.
"You take for granted just being able to go next door to a cafe and have a coffee. It's a really challenging thing.
"It turns tennis much more into a job. And also... like I said being an Australian and being away from your family and friends for nine months, you know, it's not a whole lot of fun."
The 31-year-old's comments are especially telling, considering he volunteered to do a two-week quarantine in Melbourne in order to improve his chances at his home Grand Slam.
After serving a two-week isolation period in Sydney late last year following his 4½ months away on the ATP Tour, Millman explored the option of trying to enter the quarantine bubble in Melbourne alongside players who had arrived from overseas.
This was so that he could join coach Peter Luczak and practise on the Melbourne Park courts.
He told The Age newspaper then that government restrictions prevented him from joining the bubble.
Millman, who famously upset 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer in the 2018 US Open, lost in the first round at Melbourne Park to 72nd-ranked Corentin Moutet.
He said after the match: "I just felt like the conditions were really different and obviously we couldn't hit on-site until just after the ATP Cup because we weren't in that bubble."
Like the Australian, 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic also lost in the first round, to world No. 17 Grigor Dimitrov.
Cilic, who headlines the Singapore Tennis Open, highlighted the financial ramifications of Covid-19, especially on lower-ranked players.
When asked for his reaction to some players calling for alternatives to strict quarantine measures, the 32-year-old Croat, who has also reached the final of the Australian Open and Wimbledon, said: "The concern of the players was that the prize money in the (ATP) 250, 500 tournaments went considerably down and expenses for the players are still the same.
"They're still travelling, doing the protocols and stuff and a lot of players are struggling financially. They are putting everything on paper, a lot of them are losing money...
"There needs to be, in my own sense, a little bit better communication with the ATP (on) how to resolve these issues."
Cilic and Millman were not in action at the OCBC Arena yesterday, as the top four seeds were given first-round byes.
Cilic will kick off his Singapore Tennis Open campaign against Japan's Daniel Taro, who beat India's Ramkumar Ramanathan 6-3, 6-7 (3/7), 6-3 yesterday.
Millman will face the winner of the clash between Yuki Bhambri and Matthew Ebden.
Marin Cilic: I have another four or five good years in me
Former US Open champion Marin Cilic may not have won a tournament since June 2018, but the 32-year-old believes he has "another four or five good years" left in the tank and has the potential for "some great improvements".
The Croatian former world No. 3 is hoping to end a 32-month title drought at the OCBC Arena, where he headlines the Singapore Tennis Open, which ends on Sunday.
Having slid down the rankings to world No. 44, the 2014 US Open winner and finalist at Wimbledon in 2017 and the Australian Open a year later, admitted that his form over the last two years made him "doubt" himself. His current ranking is his lowest since October 2013.
Said Cilic: "Now what I'm focusing at is just to try to get back to my good form.
"I dropped in last two seasons with my tennis. I'm not playing as good as I was playing in 2018, 2017, 2016 and a few of those years I produced some of my best tennis... and that's the goal. I'm working hard for it.
"I'm trying to just reset a little bit with my mind. Obviously, when you get into those stages, and you lose a few more matches, you start to doubt yourself.
"But I'm just trying to focus on good things and positive things and looking ahead at this year as a year that I can definitely come back up...
"I feel like I have another four or five good years in me, and hopefully they're going to be very successful."
The 2018 Davis Cup winner's pedigree is not in question, he boasts 33 wins in fifth sets, the joint-highest tally among active players, alongside world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
He is also two titles shy of joining an elite list of active players with at least 20 ATP Tour-level crowns, alongside Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Djokovic, Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro.
But consistency has evaded Cilic in recent times. He has a record of 14 wins and 14 defeats since the start of last year. That includes a run of four straight losses, the latest coming in the recent Australian Open first round against world No. 17 Grigor Dimitrov.
After one of his more high-profile wins last year, a 6-0, 3-6, 6-3 triumph at last November's Paris Masters over rising star Felix Auger Aliassime - who at 20 is the youngest player in the world's top 20 - he said he felt he has not reached his peak.
Asked what he needs to do to reach that peak, Cilic said yesterday: "I had some incredible years during my career, but still as a player, I feel there is space for development.
"I feel that I can still improve on my serve, on my shots, or my movement. Even if it's a one per cent that I can improve, I feel there is some space.
"So that's my goal in playing tennis, to try to reach the level that I feel, you know, this is the best I can play, this is the best I can move, this is the best I'm feeling, mentally.
"So I'm trying to focus all my energy into that... I feel there is still left in me, some great improvements...
"Looking at these next four or five years, I can still make a lot of progress."