If you hoped 2021 would be somewhat less fraught on the pro tennis tours, think again.
An announcement appears imminent about the next big event after the Australian Open, the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif. And it seems it won’t be good news.
It was the first tournament to be cancelled last March, when there was one case of coronavirus in the area. Many thought billionaire owner Larry Ellison was being an alarmist, even if a state of emergency had just been declared in the county.
Fast forward a year, and it appears top-level tennis will bypass the California desert for the second consecutive year.
But until – and if – that happens, the tours are in a holding pattern.
The ATP Tour advised its players today that “discussions continue to progress” with Tennis Australia. And that a final outcome “is expected in the next week”.
The other waiting game is with the Australian Open – still.
Dubai a potential site for qualies
The ATP players – at least the top-100 types who will make up the main draw there – remain … not on board with the restrictions during the quarantine/training period of 14 days.
They voted during a call with the Player Council last week, and it didn’t go the Australian Open’s way. The thing is, it’s a government decision. And at this point, they’re not going to bow to the will of the “pampered tennis player” types.
If tournament director Craig Tiley had his way, he’d give them the world and the shirt off his back. But it’s not.
Meanwhile, it appears other elements of the opening of the season are in place. From what we’re hearing, the information in this Tweet is pretty accurate.
Indian Wells decision sets off chain of events
It’s a big call, but several people familiar with Ellison’s thinking reported as far back as the summer that the tournament’s owner would be reluctant to put the event on again until there is a vaccine.
The COVID-19 situation in Riverside County is currently fairly dire. It’s one of the California counties that went on full “stay-at-home” on Monday.
A few weeks ago, it was confirmed that a PGA Tour event to be held in nearby La Quinta in January would not have fans on site.
If no IW, Tours have schedule flexibility
What does that mean? Well, the glass half-full scenario is that it allows the ATP and WTA Tours some wiggle room.
The tours must look to schedule a long list of tournaments that would be impacted by proposed new dates for the Australian Open. Assuming all of those tournaments can go ahead.
The glass half-empty version?
The WTA Tour, which struggled to find sponsors to help put on replacement events during a frantic fall season, will lose a lucrative and prestigious tournament for its top 120 players.
On the plus side, it doesn’t have nearly as many tournaments to shuffle as the ATP does. This isn’t normally a good thing. But we’re not living in normal times.
Middle East a panacea for WTA?
It’s too soon to tell what the short-term future holds for the WTA. The women’s tour was first to set up a tentative schedule for what it hoped would be an extended Australian summer.
Originally, there were to be 250 and 500 tournaments in “Week 1”, the same in “Week 2” along with the Australian Open qualifying. Then the major event itself, with a 125K-level tournament during the second week.
After that, another 250 tournament the week after. As well, two $60,000 ITF events were to be on the schedule.
Now, with the Australian Open pushed back three weeks, and room for just one week of tournaments beforehand, it is left with two potential tournaments the first week of February, and a 250 the week after (week of Feb. 22).
But Open Court has learned from a couple of sources that the WTA is looking into having a tournament in … Abu Dhabi the week of Jan. 4, before the (hopefully) mass migration Down Under.
As well, it’s considering a pair of back-to-back 125K events in Dubai, during the two weeks of the Australian Open.
That would give the players ranked outside the top 100 somewhere to play. I
What about Doha and Dubai?
It seems clear that those two tournaments, normally held in February for both the men and women – although not at the same time – could be postponed until after the Australian Open. That’s especially likely if the Indian Wells slot opens up.
The Dubai WTA event is a 1000 this year, and the Doha tournament a 500. Normally they would be held during what is now the second week of the Australian Open, and the week after. Given the situation with Indian Wells, those are significant playing opportunities for the top 100 players the Tour will want to keep.
The Dubai tournament is normally followed by the men’s 500-level event. Meanwhile, an ATP 250 tournament in Doha is typically held in early January, before the players head Down Under.
The WTA 500 event in St. Petersburg, Russia, which would be bumped if the Australian Open goes ahead, will announce its 2021 dates next week.
Busy February schedule for ATP
Typically, the men’s tour has a dozen events scheduled for February.
Here’s the 2020 schedule for comparison.
All of them would be impacted by the relocated Australian Open, now tentatively scheduled for Feb. 8-21, three weeks later than usual.
Notably, there are two 500-level events scheduled for the week immediately after. And given the length of trip to either destination (even if non-quarantine entry into the Netherlands for athletes is currently doable and entry into Mexico even more so), you wouldn’t expect second-week Australian Open players to even consider them.
If the AO goes and IW does not …
The Open 13 in Marseille, France, scheduled for the second week of the Australian Open, is already talking about having its event the week of March 8. A similar tournament in Montpellier, scheduled for the first week of the Australian Open, hasn’t provided any updates.
The 500-level tournament in Rotterdam, also scheduled for the first week of the AO, has acknowledged the Grand Slam’s infringement on its dates. But it said on Twitter that it “assumed a good solution would be found”.
The Delray Beach Open, scheduled for the second week of the AO, is rumoured to be considering a January date. It is already planning a Laver Cup-style champions event for the opening weekend. Tickets have been on sale for awhile, and their early plans were to go ahead with fans, despite the situation with the coronavirus in south Florida.
The other U.S. tournament during that period, the New York Open (week one of the AO) has been very silent. But the event, which was relocated from Memphis, has struggled to draw flies in its first two years at its new home on Long Island.
Acapulco WTA already cancelled
The Abierto Mexicano Telcel in Acapulco, which in recent years has proven a formidable competitor to the long-standing tournament in Dubai it competes with, made significant investments in infrastructure for the 2021 tournament.
But because of the coronavirus, construction fell way behind schedule.
As a result of what it termed “difficulties in negotiating with the Octagon agency”, which owns the WTA Tour event, it already announced back in August that the women’s portion of the tournament won’t be held in 2021.
Acapulco began selling tickets Sept. 21, at an optimistic 50 per cent of capacity. The Mexican state of Guerrero is currently on “orange” alert – not red, but not green.
South American swing moved to March?
The South American clay-court swing could be pushed back a little, if Indian Wells doesn’t happen.
Argentine journalist Danny Miche wrote on Twitter that if Indian Wells indeed did get cancelled, the South American swing could be played following the Australian Open.
No mention of the Chile Open in Santiago, the last tournament on the swing.