Mike Rowbottom

A couple of years after the emergence of his 2006 autobiography, Premier League footballer Ashley Cole warned players about the potential drawbacks of writing their life stories.

Cole’s book, My Defence, memorably delineated his state of mind during the breakdown of his relations with Arsenal, describing how, while he was driving, he heard the club would be offering him a weekly wage of only £55,000 - news so devastating, apparently, that he almost crashed his car.

"I think in the case of the book, I’ve probably done it out of frustration but it made everything 10 times worse," Cole told the BBC in January 2009.

We’ve all been there.

Okay, we haven’t. But in a way, maybe we have.

Arsenal's Ashley Cole offered one of the prize examples of elite sporting figures becoming detached from everyday reality in his 2006 autobiography ©Getty Images
Arsenal's Ashley Cole offered one of the prize examples of elite sporting figures becoming detached from everyday reality in his 2006 autobiography ©Getty Images

If you consider how many people there are in the world without proper food or shelter, it renders many of our own frustrations in life - getting the middle seat on a plane, losing phone signal, discovering they don’t do lattes - absurd, petty, shaming.

Such is life. It’s about context. But nobody can live with the constant awareness of all the suffering and injustice of this world.

As George Eliot wrote in Middlemarch: "If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence."

Which brings us to the Grand Hyatt hotel in Melbourne, home to many of the tennis players who have recently arrived to play in the Australian Open, which is due to start on February 8.

Under COVID-19 restrictions, all players are subject to a 14-day quarantine period upon arrival in Australia, albeit with permission to leave their hotels for up to five hours a day to train.

But positive cases on two planes carrying players and officials means that 72 of the arrivals will now have to remain in their hotels for a fortnight without training breaks. That group reportedly includes last year’s US Open champion Victoria Azerenka, 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens, Japan’s Kei Nishikori, Germany’s Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open winner Angelique Kerber and defending champion Sofia Kenin.

While the majority of players are issuing video clips showing them bashing balls gamely against upended mattresses or being pictured smiling gamely out of windows, much is currently being made on social media and in news broadcasts about the vlog put out by Vanessa Sierra, girlfriend of the controversial German-born, Australia-representing and Monaco-domiciling Bernard Tomic.

In this - seen above - she offers a commentary upon her current situation, showing the view out of their hotel window - net curtains have to be drawn because of media efforts to take pictures - reflecting upon the difficulty of getting hot food to the room and speculating when and whether a trip to the training venue will be arranged. Her tennis bad-boy partner, meanwhile, is a peripheral figure, hunched over his phone or laptop.

"There is only one bathroom," she says. "I have never pooped in front of Bernard. I don’t know what I’m doing to do."

This latest addition to the world's record began with the pair strolling past parked planes at the airport and speculating lightly over which they might buy. "This one looks more affordable," Tomic points out.

Later, in a snippet that is taking on a life well beyond her regular vloggership - if that is the correct term, which it surely isn’t - Sierra adds, wistfully: "This is the worst part of quarantine. I don’t wash my own hair. I have never washed my own hair. It’s just not something that I do. I normally have hairdressers that do it, like, twice a week for me. So this is the situation that we’re dealing with so I can’t wait to get out of quarantine just so I can get my hair done. These are the simple luxuries in life."

Yes, it’s ridiculous. But this is the voice of someone speaking honestly, artlessly, of someone who is not joining the dots, not getting the context.

Novak Djokovic has been criticised for making a list of demands while in Australian Open quarantine ©Getty Images
Novak Djokovic has been criticised for making a list of demands while in Australian Open quarantine ©Getty Images

People will hammer the hapless girlfriend, but I have some sympathy for her. How would you like to be holed up for a fortnight in a room with Bernard Tomic?

Sierra, one cannot help but feel, could have been better advised about the potential impact of her vlogging.

But far more importantly, better advice should surely have been given to Novak Djokovic, Serbia’s world number one and defending champion, whose issuing of demands on behalf of the players involved in the tournament has received a curt response from Daniel Andrews, the Premier of Victoria.

Djokovic, formerly head of the Association of Tennis Professionals Player Council, called for fitness and training material to be provided in all rooms, an improvement in food supplied to elite players, a reduction of the quarantine period for the 72 isolated players coupled with the carrying out of more tests to confirm negative cases, permissions for players to visit coaches and the shifting of as many players as possible to private houses with courts attached.

"People are free to provide lists of demands," Andrews announced. "But the answer is no."

He added: "The notion that people weren’t briefed - I think that argument really has no integrity whatsoever.

"Whilst the event is very important, nothing is more important than the fact that we follow public health advice and people stay safe."

Djokovic’s cause has hardly been helped by his previous record regarding COVID-19.

He was widely criticised after organising the Adria Tour, an exhibition tournament across four nations in the Balkans last June, with little social distancing measures in place, which had to be cancelled after he and several other top players tested positive for coronavirus.

He later described the criticism as a "witch hunt", adding: "Yes, there were some steps that could have been done differently, of course, but am I going to be then forever blamed for doing a mistake?"

His public profile received further questioning when he was accused of being opposed to vaccines – although he later denied this.

Djokovic is a man possessed of prodigious talents, but empathy does not appear to be one of them.

The response to his latest emergence into the public eye includes a characteristically uninhibited assessment from Australian player Nick Kyrgios, who was strongly critical of Djokovic’s role in the Adria Tour debacle.

Today Kyrgios tweeted: "Djokovic is a tool. I don’t mind Bernie but his Mrs obviously has no perspective, ridiculous scenes."

COVID-19 is an awful new game and we are all making up the rules as we go along. But some rules never change.