Sat high in the clouds of the 32 story Grand Hyatt hotel in Melbourne, Dutch doubles player Matwé Middelkoop flipped his laptop around to show us the stunning view from his room.
The belting Victorian sun beamed in through the expansive window that opened up to give us a panoramic skyline view of the sports capital of the southern hemisphere.
“I’m waking up to this every morning. So life’s good, I’m not complaining,” he said.
Matwé pointed his finger along the winding banks of the Yarra River, past the Royal Botanic Gardens, and over to Melbourne Park where he’ll be competing at the Australian Open in three week’s time.
But his route to Melbourne has not been the most conventional, with the doubles world No.46 having to withdraw from the ATP season curtain-raiser in Antalya, after testing positive for Coronavirus.
“It was very hectic.”
“I had around three or four negative tests before I went to fly to Turkey.”
“I went to Turkey, got tested in Turkey, and straight away was positive. Which was terrible of course, because now you have to be locked down with the chance you get locked down for the Australian Open as well, because you’re not going to make it for the logistics.”
After recovering from a nasty bout of the virus back in December, Matwé was non-infectious and was actually shedding the virus.
“I had in fact antibodies, and that was just residue in my system. You know, I cannot contaminate anybody.”
Having to spend an extended period of time in quarantine, Matwé was sceptical he would make the flight to Australia.
“I was cutting it really tight.”
My schedule for the upcoming weeks, but.. This morning I got tested positive for COVID-19 here in Turkey 😖 Meaning that I can't play the Antalya Open & that I have to go in quarantine.. Just hope that I'm recovered on time to be able to play in Australia! 🇦🇺 Keep you posted! pic.twitter.com/uiaGYE0djI— Matwe Middelkoop (@Mside83) January 4, 2021
But luck was on his side, and after being released from quarantine, he was subsequently cleared to travel to Melbourne.
What’s changed at the Tournament?
This year will be the tenth time the Dutchman will have played at the Australian Open in both his singles and doubles careers.
And as soon as he got off the plane, he noticed that a lot has changed this time around.
“So what is different? Everything is different when you come here.”
“You go to a special hangar for your flight. Everything is away from the airport and from the main area. You go with all the tennis players, you get checked up, and you get in separate busses each going to a different hotel.”
This year, he’ll partner up with El Salvadorian Marcelo Arevalo, one of the 72 players currently undergoing a 14-day hard lockdown.
But with Arevalo unable to leave his room, that left Matwé with no practice partner, “so the only thing they [Tennis Australia] could do was change my hotel to the Grand Hyatt and I’ve been here ever since!”
Impressed with the scale of the logistics and planning that have gone into the event, Matwé also commended Tennis Australia on their work.
“Tennis Australia is working really hard to get everybody happy.”
“I think they’re doing a really amazing job. I hear some complaints here and there, but for them, they get thrown into this situation, and they try to do as best as possible.”
“Can some things be done better? Yeah of course but as a matter of fact we can be happy as well that we have a tournament to play and a grand slam with a record high prize money, so I think we’re the lucky ones.”
And with a 75% capacity crowd expected to attend the grand slam, Matwé was looking forward to getting back on court and soaking up the atmosphere.
“It’s one of the perks to play on the high level, where you can play on the big stadium or the small courts where there are a lot of public around, this is really nice and gives you so much atmosphere and energy.”
“It’s really nice to have people around enjoying our craft and our art.“
Sum up your 2020 season in one word?
“Survival,” he stated emphatically.
“Survival in the whole spectrum of the word. Survival on one side because we had to deal with the whole thing with COVID. And survival on the other side because you’re fighting because you have fewer tournaments to play.
“With fewer tournaments, you need to make your point, you need to make your results, and your money because you know there must be some kind of income.”
“And that was a huge survival, but I can tell you I think it did me well.”
Even after 40 tournaments on the ATP Tour were cancelled in 2020, Matwé still managed to do a fair bit of travelling, playing in 17 events during the year.
Winning in Cordoba with Brazilian Marcelo Deomliner, while reaching the finals at the ATP1000 in St. Petersburg, and the finals at the European Open in Antwerp, he certainly had a successful year considering the difficult circumstances.
“That’s not too bad for a very tough time, so I was pretty happy with that result.”Embed from Getty Images
After fully transitioning to the doubles circuit in 2015, notably beating Roger Federer at the Davis Cup that year, Matwé has now gone on to win an impressive nine tournaments in five years.
But he’s still looking to add to that collection of silverware and stressed that getting game time over the next few weeks would be vital to helping him, and Marcelo Arevalo prepare for the Australian Open.
The pair have played together twice previously at the 2020 Paris Masters and Sofia Open, and the Dutchman commended his playing partner as being “one of the nicest guys on tour and is super professional.“
“He [Alrevalo] is still young in his mind, and he’s super pumped, he keeps me young, he keeps me alive, and he keeps me strong in the game.”
“Those things with a little bit of my experience and a little bit of his strength, I think we can make a very good combination.”
“So what we’re going to do is get as much court time as possible in the weeks between when he is out of quarantine and before our first match. That is going to be key, you know. And that’s the way to approach it, I guess.”
Starting a business in quarantine
Meanwhile in quarantine Matwé said he’d been trying to keep himself busy, filling up his days making phone calls, talking with his coach, and even setting up a new tennis clothing business.
“I recently started a company making tennis clothes called ‘On Court’, so that puts a lot of time in there. Actually, in this case, two weeks in quarantine is pretty good because I can put a lot of mind and energy in.”
With the brand set to go operational in April, Matwé has already received order requests from those looking to purchase the new gear.
“We are trying to bring some fashion back into the tennis game.”
“It’s interesting for me, it’s new, and I suddenly know how it works, what polyester is, how much it weighs, and how all these things work!”
Meanwhile, he revealed how the rest of his day would pan out and was expecting a knock on his door at 3:45 pm.
“That means you get escorted to the car, and then we go to play tennis first for 2 hours at 4 pm.“
After that, Matwé was scheduled to spend two more hours in the gym, and another hour grabbing some food on-site, before heading back to his room to relax and read about Vikings and WWII.
“I have next to my bed three of these special magazines I get every month, and I’m always saving them for a big trip.”
“So before I go to bed I will read a couple of pages about the Vikings or WWII or whatever. That’s interesting.”
What’s the first thing you’re going to do when you get out of quarantine?
With seven days left in quarantine, Matwé was looking forward to getting out and enjoying the fresh air.
Again pointing out his window, he said, “there’s the botanic gardens, right there. It’s very beautiful, just across from the Australian Open.”
“Every year I’m in going there, and I enjoy the nature there. It’s Amazing with the hill with the water, the trees and everything. I love it there, and I just chill out there, and I just enjoy the open space.”
“I also have my favourite Korean BBQ restaurant, so I’m going to go crush it there too!”
Enjoy the ribs and best of luck for the coming weeks!
Featured Image: Matwé Middelkoop – Twitter: @Mside83