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International tennis returns to Canada — but with COVID-19 restrictions

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After a two-year hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic, professional tennis is back in Canada with the start of the 2021 National Bank Open.

Top international and Canadian tennis stars will be in action this week, with Toronto hosting the men’s event and the women’s tournament being held in Montreal.

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Both tournaments were cancelled last year, joining a long list of Canadian sporting events that were shelved due to the pandemic.

Amid concerns of a Delta variant-driven fourth wave of COVID-19, strict restrictions are in place this year at both events.

General view of IGA Stadium on August 9, 2021 in Montreal, Canada. Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

A limited number of fans — roughly 5,000 — are allowed per session, a spokesperson for Tennis Canada told Global News Monday. Face masks are mandatory except while eating or drinking.

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No proof of vaccination is needed, but ticketholders are required to complete an online health screening questionnaire before arriving at the Aviva Centre in Toronto and have their temperature taken prior to entering the site.

In Montreal, spectators may be asked to answer health-related questions by the tournament staff upon their arrival at the IGA Stadium.

Tournament director Karl Hale urged all spectators to read the health protocols posted on the tournament website to ensure safety.

“The team has worked diligently for basically two years now … since the pandemic started to try to get this event off,” he said during a virtual news conference on Saturday.

“We’re just trying to make this event safe. We want everybody to have a great experience here.”

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Tennis bubble

Tight measures are also being enforced for the players, who will be restricted to a bubble so they do not come into contact with the public.

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Upon arrival in Canada, players had to quarantine for one day at their hotel room while they awaited the result of their COVID-19 test. Regular PCR testing and temperature screening will take place throughout the week.

Read more: Novak Djokovic withdrawing from National Bank Open: tournament director

Tennis Canada is also hosting a mobile vaccination clinic on site at Aviva Centre where fans and players can receive either the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines.

Canada’s top men’s tennis player Denis Shapovalov, who usually stays at his parents’ house during the event, will be lodging at the official tournament hotel in Markham, Ont. — like all other players and international staff.

While the different setup is restrictive, Shapovalov, 22, said the COVID-19 protocols will enable him to be more focused on tennis.

“For sure it’s different not being able to stay at my parents’ house,” the world number 10 told reporters on Saturday.

“It’s reality right now. Obviously, there’s protocols and rules, but overall, I think they’re all doing a great job to ensure we’re safe and make this tournament happen.”

Denis Shapovalov of Canada warms up on Day 1 of the National Bank Open at Aviva Centre on August 09, 2021 in Toronto, Canada. Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

In Ontario, cases have started to rise again amid eased restrictions, with the province recording its largest jump in daily infections — 423 — since June on Sunday. On Monday, 325 new COVID-19 cases were reported, bringing the provincial total to 552,804.

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Spanish tennis star and five-time champion Rafael Nadal said the strict bubble was not an “ideal situation” to be in.

“(It’s) not easy for the players to spend a lot of days under these circumstances,” the 20-time Grand Slam champion said during a virtual news conference on Zoom on Sunday.

“But honestly, we can’t complain much. The world is facing terrible moments. At least we are here … and hopefully the situation will be back soon to normal.”

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The uptick in pandemic-related infections also continued in Quebec, where health authorities reported 250 new COVID-19 cases on Monday.

On the women’s side of the draw, Canada’s Bianca Andreecu, who withdrew from the recently concluded 2020 Tokyo Olympics due to COVID-19 concerns, is the defending champion.

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Despite the restrictions, Andreescu said she was looking forward to competing in front of the home crowd.

“Having fans during matches is going to be amazing during a pandemic,” she told reporters on Saturday.

“It hasn’t been easy to get that experience, but having it here at home is just going to make it so much better.”

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