Playing it super safe at Singapore Tennis Open

The tournament started behind closed doors last week, with fans allowed only at the semi-final and final stages

Tournament officials in protective gowns, face shields and gloves, ball kids donning gloves and a handful of working crew all masked.

As American tennis great John McEnroe might put it: "You cannot be serious."

A small crew of officials cleaned the court and sanitised the players' seats before and after every match.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
All ball kids had to wear a face shield, mask and gloves for handling the tennis balls.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
The duties of officials, who donned full personal protective equipment, included opening new cans of tournament balls before the start of a match.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
Officials dressed in full PPE at the practice courts at OCBC Arena. Local tournament officials are not allowed to have physical contact with the players and measures such as dressing in full PPE and keeping socially distanced are taken.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
In the officials' dining area, each bubble remains isolated from the next by a partition.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

But it is all true, with local officials having to serve up an entirely different experience to get men's professional tennis back on court in the age of Covid-19.

It was the latest step to kick-start international sports here amid tough safety protocols.

These were on full centre-court display last week during the Singapore Tennis Open, an ATP 250 event, which attracted a field of 28 singles players and 16 doubles teams to the Singapore Sports Hub's OCBC Arena.

In the officials' dining area, staff dressed in PPE plate the food that is ordered from the buffet line for them. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
Cleaning crew sanitised common areas at the tournament venue hourly.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

While 250 fans were allowed each day for the weekend's semi-finals and finals, the tournament started last Monday behind closed doors.

Spectators had to take an antigen rapid test and wait 20 to 30 minutes for the result. If they received the green light, they could go in but only after a temperature check and doing SafeEntry check-in using TraceTogether.

Spectators had to wear masks at all times and were not allowed to change seats or mingle between different groups while common areas were sanitised hourly.

All players, staff and officials from overseas took daily Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction tests throughout the week-long event.

All local tournament staff took daily antigen rapid tests and were allowed into the venue only after receiving a negative result. The swabs were taken from the lower part of the nose and the results were ready in about 20 to 30 minutes. All overseas players, staff and officials had to take daily polymerase chain reaction tests.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
Test cassettes showing negative results from the antigen rapid tests. About 400 tests were conducted each day at the tournament's testing centre.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
Pre-COVID, liaison officers would meet the players at the airport upon their arrival. They no longer meet face-to-face as they communicate virtually. Virtual Liaison Officers (pictured) take care of the foreign players' needs such as ordering food, arranging for transportation, booking practice courts, and even shopping for chocolate or deodorant, as the players' movements are strictly managed between their official hotel and the OCBC Arena.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
A movement chart of the players, updated by virtual liaison officers. Fifty-three officers took care of 40 player and official bubbles, represented by coloured magnets on the whiteboard.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
Yannick Hanfmann of Germany serving during a men's doubles first round match as an electronic line-calling camera worked in the background. Line judges were replaced by the Hawk-Eye system that utilised 18 cameras placed around the court, compared with 10 that were needed when line judges made the call.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

The players were isolated in individual team "bubbles" and could not have close and prolonged interactions with other players. They removed their masks only during matches or practice sessions.

Security personnel were dressed in full personal protective equipment (PPE), line judges were replaced by cameras and press conferences were held virtually.

Even racket stringer Chua Beng Chuan, 55, was decked out in safety gear.

"I've been stringing rackets for 31 years and it's the first time I've done it while donning full PPE."

Mr Chua Beng Chuan stringing players' rackets in his own cubicle, dressed in full personal protective equipment. During the tournament, he typically started work at the Singapore Sports Hub's OCBC Arena from 7am and ended around midnight, averaging 20 to 30 rackets a day. The 55-year-old, who has been stringing rackets for 31 years, said it was the first time he had done the job while donning safety gear.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN