July 18, 2024

Open Court


Tennis Australia putting on full-court press to attract players to AO



As negotiations with the Victorian government come down to the wire – and reports from Melbourne Thursday appeared to confirm that the Australian Open would go ahead and begin on Feb. 8 – Tennis Australia pulled out ALL the stops to make it all but impossible for top 100 players to skip the tournament.

Open Court has learned from a reliable source that the federation has offered both the ATP and WTA Tours a sweetheart deal.

But, despite the good news from Melbourne, it’s not yet clear that the ATP players or tournaments will sign off on this. The tournaments scheduled for the early part of the season, obviously, will be thrown into chaos.

And that includes the four 500-level ATP Tour events that would normally be scheduled during the two-week period now envisaged for the Australian Open.

The WTA, often more pragmatic and less – complainey? – are amenable, we’re told.

Their alternative, of course, is to sit around for a month or more at home and do nothing.

Tennis Australia footing the bill

Tennis Australia would play for chartered flights Down Under from various locations. It also would pay for the hotel and food for the players and their entourages throughout the 14-day quarantine period.

As well, despite the reality that there will be limited crowds at the first Grand Slam of 2021, the Australian Open will still offer the same amount of prize money it did in January, some $71 million AUD.

What does that mean? First-round losers would earn … $100,000 AUD. An insane amount, up from $90,000 AUD in 2020.

One week of warmup events

The tours also were advised that there would be two tournaments in the week between the quarantine and the main event.

Two for the ATP players (a 250 and what’s been described as a “750” – which might mean the ATP Cup). There would be two for the WTA players (a 500 and a 250).

The tournament would cover hotels and food for the entire period in Australia, including the tuneup events week and the big dance.

In other words, a free five-week trip with lucrative earning opportunities and basically … zero overhead.

In the Wednesday edition of the Herald Sun (it’s already Thursday Down Under) Australian Open tournament director confirmed – sort of – that the tournament was a go, to begin on Feb. 8.

“It’s taken a while, but the great news is it looks like we are going to be able to hold the AO on 8 February,” Tiley told the newspaper.

If that doesn’t sound like a 100 per cent confirmation, it was enough for the Herald Sun to go with it in its headline.

So the offer from Tennis Australia, if the tournament is confirmed, seems designed to ensure that the first Grand Slam event of 2021 will have a full field.

As it was, the Australian Open was always the most generous Slam to the players; it offered a stipend to help with the expensive flights, amongst other perks.

But this sounds like a tough offer to turn down.

Stringent quarantine conditions

On the flip side, the conditions under which the players would be able to train, per reports the last few days, during the quarantine period are very restrictive.

An updated story in Melbourne’s Herald Sun outlines the strict quarantine conditions. You’d think there will have to be a lot of “quarantine police” on hand with stopwatches.

This sweetheart deal seems to ignore the notion of holding the qualifying. It also makes no mention of the doubles, which would be particularly affected by the reported limit of two players per “training pod”.

Reports have the qualifying potentially being played elsewhere (the men in Dubai the second week of January, the women … somewhere else). Or they might be cancelled altogether.

If, as has been discussed, the tours could consider relocating the Dubai and Doha events to January, they would have to take place in the first two weeks of January, after which the players would have to make the long trip Down Under.

And if they’re also thinking about trying to put the men’s qualifying in there … They might be better off doing as the US Open did, and cutting the prospective qualifiers a cheque.

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