March 1, 2021

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Latest from Oz: late Australian Open, major restrictions, shambolic 2021 sked

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Plans for the 2021 Australian Open are proving rather complicated to finalize. (Stephanie Myles-OpenCourt.ca/Wordpress)

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Hey, tennis fans. It’s now … December!

And with that, it’s getting late early in terms of firming things up for the 2021 Australian Open.

And amid all the rumours and potential scenarios, the latest are not only restrictive, but could throw the first third of both the WTA and ATP seasons into chaos.

According to information obtained by the French daily sports newspaper L’Équipe, the 2021 Australian Open could be held even later than originally thought: from Feb. 8-22.

And, during a conference Tuesday in Melbourne, Australian Open director Craig Tiley even evoked the “C” word – cancellation – out loud for probably the first time.

He has been relentlessly positive during the last few weeks as he’s been negotiating with the governments to try to find a way to hold the event safely, and give the players time to train.

Even Tuesday, that was the case.

None of this is yet confirmed, of course. But it’s a current scenario.

But beyond those potential late dates, which affect any potential European indoor season as well as the big events in the Middle East, there’s more.

No word from WTA yet

What we have learned from the WTA side is that if the Australian stretch does get pushed back this much, then the Dubai and Doha tournaments could go ahead in January.

Given some players – including Bianca Andreescu – are already in Dubai, that would actually work out well for them. But under the scenario outlined in L’Équipe, they’d have to get those events done in the first two weeks of January.

We’re hearing that on the men’s side, that might well be the same. Typically, the Doha event has been held in January anyway, before some players head Down Under. The Dubai tournament is generally in late February.

There also has been talk of the qualifying being held at alternate venues. What we heard was that the men might be in Dubai. But the women might be at … Indian Wells?

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With all of the focus on whether the players can get to Australia and play, there’s been little talk of how many fans will actually be allowed into Melbourne Park. (Stephanie Myles-OpenCourt.ca/Wordpress)

Strong words from Victorian Premier

On Wednesday, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews had some pretty strong words about the fact that the huge number of international players and coaches intending to come to Australia come with … baggage.

“Unlike every other tennis tournament that the men’s and women’s tours will play this year, only the Australian Open is a tennis tournament in a city where it can likely be assumed that those players will bring the virus here,” he said, as reported in The Age.

“Just think about that for a moment – every other Grand Slam (is happening where) cases are running wild … So we are unique in that we’ve built something that no one else has built across the nation … and on that basis, we have to safeguard that, (and) I think we can.”

Strict quarantine furlough at Melbourne Park

According to L’Équipe’s information, the players now wouldn’t arrive until mid-January – Jan. 15-17, to be exact. That’some 10 days later than even the late arrival dates that were posited just a week ago.

On the plus side, the players would be able to practice and train during the mandatory 14-day quarantine period.

But the restrictions would be onerous, per the information the ATP shared with its players to take the temperature of the room.

This appears to be the Australian government officials’ current offer on the table.

  • Arrival only between Jan. 15-17
  • Quarantine in a bubble until Jan. 31 – regardless of arrival date
  • Five hours max of freedom per day to be spent only on the court, in the gym or having treatment. All of this would take place at Melbourne Park.
  • Only one team member allowed on site with each player, per day.
  • “Training duos” must be set up, where the two players can only train with each other (and their single team member) for the entire quarantine. If one member of these mini-pods tests positive, all four have to isolate in their rooms (with no training possible) the next 14 days.
  • Tests on the first, third, seventh, 10th and 14th day of the bubble experience
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Melbourne Park is set to be the scene of all training by players during their mandatory quarantine. (Stephanie Myles-OpenCourt.ca/Wordpress)

Effects on early-season schedule

If this incarnation of the Aussie summer experience goes through, it basically eliminates the short indoor ATP Tour season in Europe (which includes the 500 event in Rotterdam).

It also affects the ATP 500 tournament in Acapulco (the women’s portion of that event has already been cancelled).

What else? The proposed departure for Australia falls right in the middle of the month. So if the ATP and WTA Tour are really thinking of having the Dubai and Doha events in January, they would have to take place the first two weeks of January.

After that – a long trip down to Australia, and then the quarantine bubble. And then? Who knows.

It’s a tough way to start the season.

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The Australian Open tickets were due to go on sale a few weeks ago. Obviously, that has been pushed back. (Stephanie Myles-OpenCourt.ca/Wordpress)

What about the Sunshine Swing?

And, if ever there were quarantine requirements entering the U.S. for a Sunshine Swing that no one knows for sure will go ahead, that could mess with those dates as well.

To sum up, having one Grand Slam (and perhaps one tournament the week before) would essentially sabotage the first 2 1/2 months of the season on both the men’s and women’s side.

Tennis is living through some challenging times, for which they are going to have to make very tough decisions.