Tennis Australia boss Jayne Hrdlicka was stopped in her tracks amid a turbulent atmosphere minutes after Novak Djokovic won the Australian Open final, earning loudly audible jeers as she praised vaccines and the local government.
Issuing a round of thanks before Djokovic was awarded the trophy, American-Australian businesswoman Hrdlicka started by discussing the unprecedented circumstances that had seen players quarantined for weeks ahead of the tournament in a bid to prevent the risk of Covid-19 being spread.
While the excitable crowd appeared to have been broadly supportive during the wait for Djokovic and Russian finalist Daniil Medvedev to take the spotlight, the mood turned when Hrdlicka praised scientific and government initiatives.
“It’s been a time of heartfelt challenge, deep loss and extraordinary sacrifice for everyone,” Hrdlicka said in the immediate aftermath of Djokovic’s straight-sets victory.
Embarrassing scenes at this #AusOpen presentation. Tennis Australia boss Jayne Hrdlicka booed by parts of crowd when mentioning the coronavirus vaccine rollout and thanking the Victorian government for the event. Hrdlicka notably failed to thank the people of Melbourne/Vic.
— Isabelle Lane (@isabellelane) February 21, 2021
“With vaccinations on the way, rolling out in countries around the world, it’s now a time for optimism and hope for the future. We hope that we’ve brought a bit of hope for the hard work that’s ahead in getting back to normal.”
As viewers around the world took to social media to voice confusion at the nature of the reaction, there were more pronounced boos after Hrdlicka said: “Without the Victoria government, we could not have done this.”
That could reflect the debate around Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ divisive decision to implement a snap five-day lockdown on Wednesday, as well as restrictions placed around the tournament, which has seen attendances reduced and crowds banished entirely at times during its two-week run.
— Isobel Roe (@isobelroe) February 21, 2021
It’s the only way THE PEOPLE can express their disgust. Agree sport & politics should be kept separate so she shouldn’t have brought Gov into it.
— NickyP (@NickyP47301131) February 21, 2021
The government can get stuffed and stick their vaccine
— IOTA 2021 (@richiem3) February 21, 2021
“Some in the crowd just booed Jane Hrdlicka’s mention of the vaccine rollout,” reported Australian journalist Isobel Roe. “They also booed her mention of the Victorian Government. Embarrassing.”
Others pointed out that a representative of a key sponsor appeared to be squirming at the awkward scene, suggested that non-sporting issues should not have been mentioned and even called the government a “disgrace”.
Djokovic, who was standing behind Hrdlicka taking stock of his superb display in the final, hit the headlines over Covid-19 last year when his Adria Tour event resulted in a number of positive tests and he appeared to question whether vaccines should be mandatory.
And so ends the 2021 Australian Open, with the crowd booing vaccines as Djokovic raises the trophy.It was a weird-ass five weeks in Australia, tennis.#AusOpen
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) February 21, 2021
Booing the Victorian Government for putting on the Australian Open, while sitting in the crowd of the Australian Open, is next level stupid #AusOpen
— The Artful Bunny (@artfulbunny) February 21, 2021
Booing the vaccines, very odd. Booing the Victorian governments continual failures, not so odd. Somehow linking the crowd behaviour to Novak, ridiculous.
— Boris Krešić (@borris_k) February 21, 2021
Hrdlicka smiled and remained tight-lipped while the crowd calmed down, adding at one point: “When you’re finished.”
“You are a very opinionated group of people,” she accepted. “Whether you’re at home or here tonight, we’re really thankful that you’re watching.
“The Tennis Australia team have worked tirelessly for the last three months to find a way to stage this event in a manner that protected the community and players and enabled them to be match-fit for the event, so congratulations to the Tennis Australia team.”