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.
“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.
“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.
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.”