A late change in plans will divert three of the top men on the ATP Tour and three of the top women on the WTA Tour to quarantine in an alternate city before the Australian Open.
AO tournament director Craig Tiley confirmed on Tennis Channel earlier Thursday that six of the best will head to Adelaide instead.
On Friday, Tennis Australia confirmed that Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem would be the first three men.
Serena Williams (not ranked in the top three) Simona Halep and … Naomi Osaka will be the first three women.
There will be eight players in all.
Aussie world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty doesn’t have to quarantine as she never left Australia. So that wouldn’t make any sense.
In all, some 50 people will go directly to Adelaide, with the rest heading to Melbourne.
Adelaide gets another reward – a WTA 500
Tennis Australia also announced Saturday (their time) that the WTA 500 tournament to be held after the Australian Open, the week of Feb. 22, will also be held in Adelaide before limited fans.
The Adelaide folks invested some $45 million in their site this year, after a promising first edition of the joint ATP-WTA event last January.
Then, they found out that the pandemic and the postponement of the Australian Open meant they had to cancel their event.
They have received a nice little bonus for their efforts.
Exhibitions before jetting to Melbourne
The players will play exhibitions in two sessions on Jan. 29 as the quarantine ends, before jetting to Melbourne for the various events at Melbourne Park.
They’re calling it “A Day at the Drive”. The Adelaide tournament site is on Memorial Drive.
“We’re right up to the edge on the numbers of people we’re allowed to quarantine in Melbourne. We needed some relief. So I approached South Australia about the possibility to quarantine at least 50 people,” Tiley said Thursday.
“But they had no interest in doing it, because there’s no benefit to them to put their whole community at risk where the tennis players just travel to Melbourne,” he added. “The Premier agreed to host 50 people in a quarantine bubble, and then have those players play an exhibition.”
Top six – and more – to Adelaide
Tiley said the best way to do it was to choose “the top three men and the top three women”.
“It’s a smaller cohort, and will travel directly to Adelaide. So there’ll be some benefit because of that. We think this is a great opportunity to actually launch before we go into the season,” Tiley said. “(Adelaide has) just invested $44 million in building a new stadium, so this is a nice way to say thank you.”
The news isn’t going over particularly well with the rank and file, who reckon that not only will that mean the top players will be under less scrutiny in terms of bubble strictness, but also will be able to bring a lot more people with them beyond the allotted two.
“This announcement for the top three, it sort of came out of the blue And it’s weird, to say the least. They could even benefit from a gym at the hotel and exercise there, which wouldn’t count towards their five-hour quota. Everyone would be able to go out. They’ll live almost normally. And it’s not like they don’t already have a lot of privileges,” Chardy said. “If I were the world No. 4 (outside the privileged three), I’d be upset. And what would have happened if Roger (currently No. 5) were going?”
We should point out that rumours fly pretty quickly around a tournament. So there’s no way of knowing if what Chardy is hearing in Antalya is actually factual. But some if it could be. The rest is educated guessing, because we know how the world works.
“Every single day you wake up there’s a different set of issues.”— Tennis Channel (@TennisChannel) January 7, 2021
Still, @CraigTiley and his team are working hard to deliver a successful @AustralianOpen, and the Tennis Australia CEO explains how on #TCLive→ https://t.co/tPoe44TDv0 pic.twitter.com/2gm131yoU9
1,280 tennis travellers in all
The original hard cap from the Victorian government decreed that 1,000 people would be allowed to travel to Melbourne. But the list had somehow grown to … 1,280, according to Tiley.
It seems the government would allow it to stretch it quite some distance, to 1,250. But not all the way.
It remains to be determined who will make up the balance of the 50 Adelaide-bound tennis folks.
The official guideline dictated that main-draw players were allowed to bring two team members apiece. Although no one truly believed the very top players wouldn’t get some flexibility on that score.
But there are rules about training with one person for the entire week, and then adding two more players to the cohort the second week of the modified quarantine. And Tiley said that the rules for the Adelaide crew would otherwise remain the same.
So you would think more than just the top three players on each side will be making this trip. Thus the 50 number.
Djokovic had already convened to train with countryman Filip Krajinovic the first week. Thiem and fellow Austrian Dennis Novak also planned to be a practice duo. Nadal planned to train with Italy’s Jannik Sinner. Serena and Venus Williams also were to team up.
So we’ll see how all that works out.
There is also the risk that the inter-state borders in Australia are closed for travel. That’s not a crazy thought; it has happened a few times in recent weeks even with a low number of cases that have popped up.
Imagine if the top six got stuck in South Australia …
More details from Down Under
Tiley also confirmed there would be a third 500-level WTA Tour event down in Australia. (The first two, both with 56-player draws, will be held concurrently the week of Jan. 31).
This event will have a 32-player draw. It would be held the week after the Australian Open – the week of Feb. 21.
The prize money will the same as the 64-player draw in Abu Dhabi this week – a total of $565,530 US.
So it turns out there will be a lot of playing opportunities for the women during the Australian swing. And that’s great – for them.
But all the players outside the top 100 who won’t be allowed to travel down there are at the opposite end of the spectrum. There is literally almost nothing for them to play through to the end of February at this point.
Let’s hope that changes.
Up to 75 per cent fans at the AO?
Tiley also told Tennis Channel the attendance in Melbourne would be “at least 50 per cent, and probably more – up to 75 per cent fans.”
Which is a lot.
He said the ATP Cup purse would be $7.5 million. But according to the sliding prize-money scale relative to the percentage of attendance that is actually the maximum amount. In other words, the amount that was to be disbursed if attendance was at a full 100 per cent with no reductions.
Meanwhile, on the concerning side, the Melbourne Herald Sun is reporting that the March Australian Grand Prix is set to be postponed, perhaps to the fall.
Planes and hotels
Tiley said that an alternate hotel has been secured after the residents at the Westin where they had planned to house the players complained of not being told a large group of travellers would be semi-quarantining only after the fact.
Tiley described those well-heeled residents as being “in a different tower”. And he said that they “didn’t want it to happen, so they were going to file an injunction.”
The tournament director, who clearly has been juggling two dozens balls at once over the last few months, also said that one group of airlines that were to supply charters to fly the players and staff to Australia had decided they “didn’t want to travel to Australia. So we had to find seven other aircraft,” he said.
In all, there will be 17 or 18 charters, which will contain only about 75 socially-distanced people each, heading Down Under from various hubs.