May 18, 2024

Open Court


WTA to take over Melbourne Park during Aussie summer (updated)



As the tennis world continues to await any sort of official schedule for early 2021, the WTA Tour has clarified the path – at least for its players.

Back in Nov. 13, the women’s Tour tried to be proactive – and optimistic – in putting together a comprehensive schedule for 2021. It was based on the regular start date for the Australian Open, and a mid-December departure for the players headed Down Under.

But on Monday, the day that was supposed to be the (already postponed) deadline for all tournaments up to and including the Australian Open, the WTA has finally rejigged and finalized the details.

Open Court has obtained details of the new schedule.

The deadline for all the events has been pushed back another week to Jan. 21.

And, with their proactive move, the WTA will have the ATP Tour searching for venues for the THREE tournaments it plans to stage that week.

500s in Australia and Abu Dhabi

The season opener is, as Open Court reported over the weekend, a 500-level event in Abu Dhabi.

It will have a 64-player draw for singles, and a 28-draw for doubles.

It will start, unusually, on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021 with the first round of qualifying and run through to a Wednesday final on Jan. 13.

During that week, the Australian Open women’s qualifying will be held in Dubai from Jan. 9-13. (On Thursday, the ATP officially announced its men’s qualifying would be held concurrently in Doha, but start a day later on Jan. 10).

No word yet about whether they’ll allow fans in for the 500 events (that’s Iga Swiatek squishing herself through the crush last January)

Notably, from the pandemic rules we read, there is a 14-day mandatory quarantine for travellers into Abu Dhabi that doesn’t exist for people travelling to Dubai (which is just an hour away).

However, whatever the number of days a player may have spent in Dubai before going to Abu Dhabi count towards that quarantine.

In any case, you’d expect that there would be some sort of exemption figured out before too long. Because most of the women are not in Dubai at the moment.

That’s a full 128-player draw. The 16 qualifiers will then head down to Australia to quarantine along with the other players along with the six top-ranked final-round losers, to stock the lucky loser pile.

Two 500 events the same week

After that – and after the 14-day quarantine period in Australia, the WTA plans TWO 500-level tournaments in Australia the week of Jan. 31 – which is the week before the Australian Open.

If the early schedule had the tournament simple called things like “Week 1 International” and “Week 2 Premier”, this tournament duo is going under the name of “Melbourne 500”.

Each of those events is scheduled to have a 56-player singles draw and a 28-team doubles draw. That would cover just about everyone who is headed down to Melbourne for the Australian Open.

No word yet on whether they will allow fans in for the prelims.

ATP plans two for early January, three as Oz tuneups

In addition to the relocation of the Delray Beach tournament to the week of Jan. 6, Open Court has learned that a second 250 tournament is planned for Antalya, Turkey.

That’s at the same time as the planned Australian Open qualifying.

So the fields for these events will either be top 100 – or outside the top 250.

Antalya hosted a grass-court tournament for three years, from 2017-2019. It was moved to Mallorca for 2020 – but, of course, the grass-court season never happened.

And once the 14-day quarantine is complete in Australia, Open Court also has learned that the ATP Tour is planning three events for the week before the Australian Open.

Those are a pair of 250s – plus the ATP Cup, which will be a pared-down 12 nations.

With the WTA having co-opted Melbourne Park, it will take some creativity to figure out where to put on three events within the state of Victoria.

The word, right now, is that ALL of these events will take place at Melbourne Park.

Another WTA 250 during AO

Another 250 tournament is also on the schedule for the week of Feb. 13, which is the second week of the proposed Australian Open.

So that’s another rarity – a full-fledged WTA tournament during a Grand Slam.

Players who are still alive in singles, doubles or mixed – yes, it seems there will be mixed doubles! – cannot enter that tournament.

That’s an upgrade on the original plan, which was to have a “125”-level tournament that week. You would expect they would have had to get dispensation from the Australian Open to upgrade the event.

The WTA also plans to have a 56-draw (and a 28-team doubles draw) for that tournament, which is rare at the lowest WTA level. But these are rare times.

There had been plans to have a 250 tournament at the end of the Grand Slam tournament – to give those traveling down there what seemed – even at the time – an optimistic five weeks of play to justify the trip.

That tournament has been scratched. From the sound of it, there won’t be any much action that week, to give players a week to potentially … head back to the Middle East to play Doha and Dubai.

As it turns out, the Middle East is the new … China!

A couple of 125s in the mix

Open Court has learned that the WTA is planning to have a pair of 125K tournament in Europe during the Australian Open.

The idea is to add more playing opportunities for those who don’t head down to Australia for the main event.

With the equivalent of a 128 draw having to be played the week before the Australian Open, Melbourne Park will likely be busy late into the night all week.

But given the situation with the COVID-19 virus in Europe right now, that’s going to be an interesting sell. As well, the WTA hasn’t demonstrated it could effectively round up potential short-term owners or sponsors to put on events with short lead times.

Prague stepped up nicely in September when a potential 125K in Portschach, Austria bailed out. It doubled its draw to 128. But that was outdoors; that’s not a realistic option in February.

There is nothing yet confirmed on that front.

Melbourne Park a WTA hub

Players who are in the qualifying in Dubai next month will be allowed to enter the Australian-based tournaments. But if they don’t get through, or aren’t among the six lucky loser candidates, they’ll be pulled out.

The two 500 tournaments scheduled for Melbourne both will be held at Melbourne Park. So that’s going to be pretty interesting.

It also tells you that there will simply be no room at all for the men’s events. Those are tentatively supposed to be one 250 tournament and another “750”. That could be a scaled-down version of the ATP Cup. Or it might not.

Melbourne Park will be WTA Central for a month, for players like 2020 champion Sofia Kenin.

If the women have fired this pre-emptive strike to lock down the most convenient venue for themselves, we say, you GO, girls.

Blind entry for the two 500 tournaments

Queue up the jockeying for position with last-minute entries – checking to see which of the two 500s might have the tougher draw, right?

But no, the WTA has an app for that.

There is to be one entry list, which will be divided into two draws two weeks before the tournaments are due to start.

It might take some doubles specialists to fill out two 56-player draws, given there will only be some 130 singles players traveling down. And not all will play. There are also 16-player qualifying draws tentatively scheduled for both tournaments.

As an example, Serena Williams did enter the Australian Open in the earlier incarnation of the schedule. But she did not enter any of the tuneups.

The post Australian Open 250 tournament also will be held at Melbourne Park.

Meanwhile, the early 2021 ATP schedule is taking shape.

The cancellation/postponement of Indian Wells leaves room for the indoor European swing and the South American swing (without the Rio Open).

Then, Doha and Dubai/Acapulco, which would be pushed back a month to the week of March 22 – i.e., the week before Miami.

The Miami Open is still on the schedule, during its regular weeks at the end of March/beginning of April. But as long as IMG doesn’t confirm they will hold the event – and we know how things are in Florida these days – it is holding up the confirmation of the whole schedule

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