April 15, 2021

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You want to play the Australian Open? It’s complicated

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As Tennis Australia finalized the list of conditions with the government, and the financial assistance it will give the players who come Down Under, it’s still unclear whether the ATP will sign off on the change of Australian Open dates.

Not that the tour can do anything about it, if its players want to compete; they are independent contractors.

But the shift means the tour has FOUR directors of 500-level tournaments who need to be accommodated, as their scheduled dates are impacted by the change.

But if everyone does head down, the logistics are fairly daunting.

No qualifying Down Under

What they do know is that the qualifying will not be held in Australia.

The maximum number of player and team members currently allowed in by the Australian government will be 1,000. So the math doesn’t come close to working.

The qualifying, reportedly, will be held … somewhere. To be confirmed.

Tennis Australia will arrange for the players who get through the qualifying to fly to Australia in time to start the quarantine with the main-draw players – i.e., by Jan. 17.

(What they’ll do with extra players, who might get in as lucky losers if there’s a quarantine training injury or, God forbid, a positive COVID-19 test – or more than one – is just another detail to be dealt with).

And what of the Aussies outside the top 100 who don’t get wild cards and planned to play the qualifying? They’ve already, for the most part, come home and gone through the strict hotel quarantine.

In this scenario, they would have to leave Australia again (somehow), go to some faraway place, try to qualify – and then come back and do the modified quarantine again. Even if they lose in the first round of qualifying. It’s insane.

A week before, and after

There will be only one week of tuneup tournaments before the Australian Open. It will the week directly before, which is something the top contenders don’t typically do.

But these are not typical times.

As Open Court reported previously, the ATP will have two events the week of Feb. 1. One will be a 250; the other will be a “750”, which means either an abbreviated version of the ATP Cup, or another tournament that will offer 750 points to the winner.

The women will have a Premier and an International – now known as a WTA 500 and a WTA 250.

Also, there will be an additional WTA 250 tournament the week of Feb. 15, after the Australian Open.

Here’s the list of issues every player has to abide by and organize during the quarantine, per a letter from Tennis Australia sent to the players and obtained by Open Court.

It’s .. long.

Travel and entourage

Australian Immigration is evaluating all of the previously-filed requests for visa exemptions, and the government has advised Tennis Australia that the maximum number of people who can enter the country is 1,000.

When you factor in 256 just for the men’s and women’s singles draws alone (without team members), it makes sense that they can’t have the qualifying. It’s hard to even see how they can have doubles.

Each player is encouraged to “minimize” their team. And those extra people must be “essential support staff” (coach, trainers, physios).

If players want to bring family members or “non-essential” staff (that means agents and PR reps, probably), Tennis Australia will have to try to get that number expanded.

Flying to Oz

Tennis Australia will pay for the cost of economy-class seats on designated flights and on the charter flights they will arrange (if those are necessary). But only for the players and team members.

You can already see the players fighting for the few available business- and first-class seats on the flights (the extra cost of which they will have to pay themselves).

If the players can get a regular commercial flight with an upgrade, Tennis Australia will chip in $2,500 towards the cost. That’s something they did pre-pandemic, it should be noted.

I think we’ve mentioned this on Twitter before. But the Victoria government – marketing and tourism division – pledged long ago to put up some serious funding to help the Australian Open take place.

As written in the Herald Sun, that’s proven to be the case even if Tennis Australia is still going to take a massive hit financially with all the extra costs. They estimate it could cost as much as an extra $40 million AUD.

Quarantine arrangements

The players will need to arrive in Australia on Jan. 15 or 16. Separate rooms for the player and each team member will be paid for, and up to $100 a day per person for meals.

People can share rooms (although since they’re being paid for, it’s hard to see the point). But as some players at Roland Garros found out the hard way, if a roommate tests positive for COVID-19 a roommate will be considered a close contact. So it’s not worth the risk.

Every team member will be considered a “close contact” in the case of a positive test. So will their practice buddies.

Unlike at the US Open, the players will not be allowed to rent private housing during the quarantine (although after it’s over, they can go, and stay, wherever they want).

Players and teams will only be allowed to eat at the hotel, other than being able to grab a bite during the five-hour period they are allowed to be on site for practice and training.

After a test on Day 1 is negative, players and team will be allowed to access the facilities (at Melbourne Park, and nearby Albert Reserve). They can leave the hotel for five hours to train: two hours on court, two hours for the gym, and another hour for dining/nutrition.

No indication of how, exactly, they’re going to be able to police that.

Find a buddy – or “cohort”

quarantine
The bidding wars will begin soon for Week 1 “cohorts”. The players who are the least likely to try to break quarantine will be very much in demand as what your “cohort” does affects you, too. (Stephanie Myles – Opencourt.ca/Wordpress)

They’re actually calling them “cohorts”, which is kind of cute.

Players can bring one of their team members on site each day (it doesn’t have to be the same person every day).

Between Day 2 and Day 7, they must choose one other player and their team member to practice on court with.

By Day 8 through the end, that can be expanded to three other “cohorts” until the 14-day period ends, dated from the arrival of the last member of a player’s team.

Players can get physio treatment from own staff, if they bring one. For the rest, the arrangements for physio and treatment during the quarantine are still not finalized with the government.

Testing – a lot of testing

The players and their teams will have to have a PCR test (negative, obviously) within 48 hours of the flight departure.

They will have to PCR and saliva tests on Day 1, 3, 7, 10 and 14 during the quarantine. If everything is negative, they then are free to move about the .. city.

Notably, since there is zero community transmission in Victoria at the moment, the players and teams will NOT have to be tested during the tournament.

This, of course, is subject to change.

Quarantine mitigation rules

During the quarantine, masks will have to be work at all times except when alone in the hotel room, eating or drinking, practicing on court and exercising in the gym.

The players will have to complete an electronic health questionnaire every day they are in Australia.

If there’s a positive test, the player and all “close contacts” will be immediately isolated for 14 days (or perhaps less) during quarantine.

And if it happens during the tournament – even to a player’s coach – they’re out.

If a PCR test comes up positive, they will be allowed to take a second test. Tennis Australia will “advocate” on their behalf, although ultimately it’s up to the government.

If a positive tests takes them out of the tournament after the draw but before the start, they will be entitled to 50 per cent of prize money. If it happens during the tournament, the compensation would be the same as any regular medical withdrawal.

Be good, boys and girls

If players or team members breach protocols, the penalties range from disqualification from the tournaments, forfeiture of prize money, extended quarantine, isolation in a Government-mandated hotel room or … eek … “deportation”.

If the breacher is a team member, the player is responsible.

Once the quarantine is over, the players can move to a designated player hotel or book their own private housing, and will get a per diem of $330 a day. As well, each player and team will get a $200 meal allowance.