It’s too soon to carve anything in stone.
But it appears that fully-vaccinated players competing at the Australian Open next January will be able to train and prepare for the event without any sort of quarantine.
Even. better, the plan is to have the qualifying return to Melbourne Park, after it was relocated to the Middle East in January because of the pandemic.
There is no official confirmation from the Victorian government yet.
But an email to the WTA Tour’s player group – was leaked to several media over the weekend including Open Court – has updated its players on what they might expect.
The player group was asked to keep the email confidential, as Tennis Australia “was still working with the government on the details.”
(Editor’s note: experience tells us that’s a big caveat).
We’re having flashbacks to the tussles between Tennis Australia and the government a year ago about getting privileges for the arriving players, the constant changes in plans and, in the end, somewhat less in reality than had been promised to the Tours by TA beforehand in certain areas – only to be pulled back by the Victorian government).
So we’ll take all this under advisement. When this sort of thing leaked out last year, often the Victorian government pulled back on it in short order. There’s some posturing going on. Again.
Notably, though – if discussions become reality – the tournament WILL allow unvaccinated players to compete.
We’ll see how that flies out with Melbournians.
(Editors’ note: probably not well).
Unvaccinated still to be subject to hard quarantine
Thehard news for the large number of ATP and WTA Tour players (and team members) who remain unvaccinated is that if they’re not fully jabbed, they will have to undergo the same hard time in hotel quarantine that was mandated last January.
(If you missed the *epic* Open Court hotel quarantine Tweet thread, here it is).
Okay! It’s 2:36 pm on Sunday and no lunch in sight yet.— Stephanie Myles (@OpenCourt) January 17, 2021
So rather than eat food, I will finally begin this long-awaited Twitter thread about … quarantine food!
It’s going to be a thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat I promise.
That’s 14 days in a hotel room. No specifics so far about whether, as in January, they would be allowed out for five hours a day to train and practice.
As well, those concerned also would be subject to regular testing.
The notion that the tennis players would be an exception to Australian entry rules that require everyone to be double-vaccinated is … not an accurate take.
Just last week, the New South Wales government (which includes Sydney) established a quota of 210 non-vaccinated people allowed in per week. Of course, they would be subject to the hotel quarantine upon arrival.
As well, so much of life in newly-reopened Melbourne requires being vaccinated. So even when those players got out of quarantine, they’d find themselves hard-pressed to go anywhere. Perhaps even many of the better hotels would have issues.
And again – if it happens – you wonder if they’d go as far as … creating separate locker rooms and eating areas for the unvaccinated players, to satisfy any government objections.
There’s still much more to unfold in this story.
The vaccinated will be free to roam
The good news for those who are vaccinated – according to what Tennis Australia reportedly has told the WTA – is that they will NOT have to undergo hotel quarantine, as long as they test negative for COVID-19 within 24 hours of arrival.
As well, both groups can begin arriving in Australia as early as Dec. 2, which is much earlier than had been previously discussed.
That’s a game-changer, compared to a year ago.
You’d have to think this also leaves open the possibility that the warmup events, which were all held at Melbourne Park this year, could go back to their regular venues in places like Brisbane, Adelaide and Hobart.
But that’s all still to be determined.
Vaccination rate high in Victoria
The steady and increasingly high vaccination rate in the Australian state of Victoria is a big contributing factor to the loosening of protocols.
They are ahead of schedule with the percentage of fully vaccinated expected to hit 80 per cent within a week, and 90 per cent shortly after that.
Given the late start the country had on vaccination in the first place, that’s an incredible rate of compliance.
Close contacts issue not settled
For the last while on the pro tours, players or team members considered “close contacts” of someone who tested positive were no longer required to isolate as well, if they were vaccinated.
That’s progress from last year, when some players missed or were withdrawn from tournaments (notably in New York) because someone they had casual or close contact with came up positive.
But according to the WTA’S email, that issue is yet to be settled.
And of course, that issue goes directly to what occurred in January, on the charter flights arranged by Tennis Australia to get the player group, officials and a few media to Melbourne.
Even though the planes were at best one-quarter full, even one positive test on the flight meant that the players were stripped of even that five-hour window outside their quarantine hotel.
It happened on four different flights.
This time, per the WTA, the charter flights will not be mandatory, as they were in January.
Tennis Australia had already prepared a similar scenario for 2022, with charter flights leaving from various hubs around the world. They also planned for the qualifying to once again be held in the Middle East.
But at the time, there were virtually no commercial flights even to be had (at almost any cost) to get to Australia.
That is expected to change next month as the country opens up again.
Imagine being the Tennis Australia crew charged with the logistics of all this – ripping up their game plan every week. But it’s a good thing.
So while there is much still to be decided about what the 2022 Australian Open will look like, the news is certainly very encouraging.
As long as you’re vaccinated.