“It’s so good to see folks.”
That was Naomi Osaka, the three-time Grand Slam champion, moments after her first-round win on Monday afternoon on the Australian Open. She stood at a microphone on the court docket at Rod Laver Area and peered up at a crowd that appeared, if not regular, then one thing prefer it.
That was the way it was on Monday throughout the grounds of Melbourne Park, the place worldwide sports activities returned, nonetheless briefly, to one thing prefer it was earlier than the pandemic.
Spectators lined up for tickets. They waited in safety traces, contemplated whether or not to order burgers or fish and chips, and determined what number of $13 beers they may abdomen.
The match may safely happen now solely as a result of the Grand Slam tennis season occurs to begin in a rustic that has arguably managed Covid-19 higher than anyplace else, due to months of enforced lockdowns, closed borders, and thorough testing and call tracing. Simply 909 folks in Australia, which has a inhabitants of greater than 25 million, have died of Covid-19. The nation has averaged a half-dozen instances a day through the previous two weeks, practically all of them worldwide arrivals.
Compromises have been made at this yr’s occasion: Spectators are capped at 30,000 per day, about half the quantity that will often attend. However their roars had been appreciated greater than ever.
“That’s one of many greatest motivations that we now have, the supply the place we draw our power and energy and motivation,” stated Novak Djokovic, the world No. 1. “Particularly at my age and stage of my profession, I’m seeking to feed off that power from the group.”