Australian Open boss Craig Tiley has opened up about the abuse he copped from players before and during the two-week event, saying the stress got so bad that he sent his wife and kids away.
Tiley has worked almost around the clock since COVID-19 took hold of the world last March, desperate to ensure the 2021 Australian Open went ahead.
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Speaking to AAP on Sunday, the CEO of Tennis Australia detailed the enormous mental and physical toll staging the Open during a global pandemic took not only on him, but his family and the entire 600-strong team at Tennis Australia.
Tiley said he’s only slept “three to four hours” per night for the last six weeks, routinely leaving Melbourne Park after 2am.
“Four hours, 31 (minutes). That was a good night. Three hours, 10. Two hours, 50,” he said while checking his FitBit.
“My sleep score says ‘below fair’ and I’ve lost weight because of the stress. Most of the time I Iook at the clock and it’s three o’clock.”
The last six weeks have been particularly brutal and the Open boss even had to send his wife and three young children away to shield them from the stress.
When passengers from three of the 15 charter flights to Australia returned positive tests to coronavirus, forcing 72 players and their entourages into hard quarantine last month, Tiley made a pledge.
He committed to nightly zoom calls with everyone in quarantine.
First with the women’s players and their support staff, then the men and theirs and finally with the “critical international workforce” – those flying in to work at the event, including chair umpires, tour officials, broadcasters and international media.
Fronting up to 451 mostly frustrated people in lockdown for at least five hours a night was rough.
“I got abused on the calls. It was significant,” Tiley said.
“There were a lot of complaints about a lot of things, and some of it was fine. We were just trying to do our best.
“So I made a decision that was I going to front it and I was going to take the heat from everyone, not anyone from my team.
“But normally when you take heat, you take it once. This was 15 straight days. It’s like being attacked for 15 straight days, verbally.”
Craig Tiley forced to send wife and kids away
That’s when Tiley sent his wife Ali, his twin boys, aged only seven, and eight-year-old daughter to Rosebud on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula.
“Because the stress was too much on the house,” he said.
“It was too hard because I don’t think I was in a place to be effective when I was at home.
“So they left. I was at home by myself for probably seven, eight days. And I needed to be – I was getting hammered.
“If you’re getting hammered like that, it’s probably better that you don’t have people around you because I would have vented on someone else.
“They sensed there was a heavy black cloud over the house so they went and when everyone was out of quarantine and they started playing, they came back, and the kids went back to school.”
Tiley revealed he pulled two all-nighters during the “hairy” quarantine period.
“I think I calculated it was like a 50-hour window of staying awake. It’s like torture,” he said.
“Sleep deprivation is a form of torture. But it was my choice. I could have cut things off. But it was just important enough to do things.”
Tiley conceded there were “absolutely many times” he expected Victorian Premier Dan Andrews to call off the Australian Open, saying he “always waited for that text.”
But, asked if it was all worth it, the steely South African said: “Absolutely. I’d do it a 100 times over”.
“I never, ever mentally threw in the towel,” he said.
Tiley said Tennis Australia had exhausted the $80 million it had in reserve and would require a concessional loan and years of hardship to dig itself out from financial strife.
But he’s proud Australia has pulled off what seemed impossible not so long ago.
“The investment that we made and the support we got from the government will be paid back a thousand times over because we’ve sent a global message,” he said.
“All eyes have been on Melbourne and they’ve seen this achievement.”
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