Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley had sounded so optimistic Monday about a five-week summer of tennis in Victoria.
And, with zero cases in the state over the last couple of weeks and a long lockdown partially lifted, there was good reason to be.
But Open Court learned from reliable sources Tuesday evening that the plan hit a major snag.
We were told the Victorian government will not be allowing any quarantine at all in the month of December – as hundreds of tennis players and team members had been trying to plan a mid-December arrival.
At the earliest, that quarantine could only begin in January.
So … the massive group of tennis-related folks will now have to pivot. Not that it’s even been possible to firm up plans so far.
“New challenges” re quarantine
The ATP Tour players were informed Tuesday, rather vaguely and tersely, that there are some “new challenges” around the original mid-December recommended arrival date in Australia. So everything remains up in the air.
The WTA players were also advised, in an email, which Open Court has seen. If offered more detail.
The WTA told its players that “the government will no longer allow players and their teams to arrive to begin quarantine during the original timeframe of Dec. 8-14. The exact date of allowed arrival is still to be confirmed.”
It elaborated that while those who celebrate Christmas can now do so at home, it “does alter the training process and creates uncertainty about travel dates, flights, the calendar of events, etc.”
Most of that was paraphrased from an email sent to the players from tournament director Craig Tiley.
“Hopefully we will be able to still host our full schedule of events,” it adds.
But Tiley’s email said that the holding of tournaments during the first two weeks of January will depend “entirely on the quarantine conditions imposed by the Victorian Department of Health and whether they allow for tournaments to be run in a quarantine bubble – i.e. without crowds.”
What that sounds like, is that they can compete in a bubble – which doesn’t seem likely at this point, but who knows – they don’t want to the Australian Open back. Not yet.
Tennis Australia statement
About 12 hours after the original email sent Wednesday morning, Australia time, Open Court received the brief statement sent to the media.
“Tennis Australia continues to work closely with the Victorian Government on staging the Australian Open.
The health and safety of the community, the players and all involved in the event, has always been our top priority, and we recognise the incredible effort and the sacrifices all Victorians have made to contain COVID-19.
We will provide more updates when available.“
Victoria premier “confident” AO will go ahead
Speaking to journalists on Wednesday in Australia – where the media were playing catchup after the news was reported on Open Court and Tennis Channel hours earlier, Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said he was confident the Australian Open would go ahead.
“There was some reporting earlier in the week that this all was some sort of done deal, that there would be lead-up tournaments … and the whole thing was finalised. I just want to make the point – this is incredibly complex, it has to be safely, it has to be done properly. So that reporting was not accurate,” Andrews said.
“We are working very, very closely with Tennis Australia. They are working all of their partners. We’re confident that we’ll finish up with an Australian Open. It’s a very important event. But there’s a lot of work to be done to make sure that that’s as safe as possible – not just from the broader Victorian community from a public health point of view.”
Current plans seem optimistic
The way Tennis Australia hoped it would all shake out was for the players to arrive in Australia in mid-December. Then, they could do their mandatory 14-day quarantine. But they hoped they could do it in a way that allowed them to practice and prepare for the 2021 season.
A story in Melbourne’s Herald Sun Monday had confirmation from Tiley that the entire slate of January tournaments would be moved to Victoria. That would eliminate the possible issue of quarantines for players travelling between states.
But Tiley could not confirm that the government had agreed to an arrangement whereby the players could train while in quarantine.
Indeed, once the story came out, the Victorian premier pushed back. He stated that nothing was yet carved in stone.
The news today only confirms that assertion.
A five-week season – but when?
The proposed extended Aussie summer season is tentatively scheduled for five weeks. That would include two weeks of warmup tournaments, followed by the two-week Australian Open. And then, an additional week of tournaments the first week of February to add more playing opportunities.
At least, that’s what’s sketched out on the women’s side, as Open Court reported exclusively last Friday.
The ATP has made no schedule announcements so far. And, now that they’ve gotten the sombre news from Tennis Australia, the 2021 schedule details may be delayed even further.
One holdup – before today’s news – appeared to be the fate of the second edition of the ATP Cup.
That event, contested by 18 countries in its inaugural edition in January, may be pared down to eight teams – or not held at all.
Aussie Millman would like clarity
Meanwhile, as veteran Aussie player John Millman finally arrived home from four months on the road. And he has two more weeks quarantined in a Sydney hotel room to come.
The 31-year-old called for some clarity in an interview with NCA Newswire.
“It’s really tough to get flights right now – international flights are so hard to get. And the players are really hungry for a little bit more information. I know Tennis Australia’s doing everything they can, but also from the governments because everyone’s a little bit anxious,” Millman said.
“Time is of the essence. In the next week we’d really have to start getting some answers. Because the players are desperate to start booking their travel arrangements to get here. … It’s not just about co-ordinating it for themselves. It’s about co-ordinating their teams’ travel also.”
Impact on AO – and 2021 season
It appears clear Tennis Australia is determined to hold the Australian Open, come hell or high water.
As they should be. They don’t have pandemic insurance for the 2021 edition; they’ve already said it will run at a deficit.
But Tiley said they expected local broadcaster Channel 9 to honour the entirety of its original pre-COVID financial commitment (reportedly some $60 million AUD a year). As well, the tournament is investing more than $30 million in bio-security.
They may have little choice but to push it back. Which brings with it an additional set of complications; issues that have already been explored whenever people suggest they hold the tournament later, when the weather is less oppressive.
But beyond that, a postponement impacts not only the tournament itself but the rest of the early 2021 season.
That includes the tournaments in the Middle East – if, indeed, they go forward. Because nothing is certain right now.
It also includes the Fed Cup qualifiers, currently scheduled for the week after the Australian Open.
And who knows how far the domino effect will carry?
To be continued …