May 29, 2020

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AO ’21 already considering worst-case scenarios

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As professional tennis players return to the practice courts in Europe, there’s a long road ahead before they – and the fans – even know if there will be tennis in 2020.

But on the other side of the world, Tennis Australia is already modelling four scenarios for the 2021 Australian Open – and all but one of them are pretty grim.

Craig Tiley, the head of Tennis Australia and tournament director at the Australian Open told Darren Walton of the AAP that the first Grand Slam of the season, scheduled for Jan. 18-31, 2021, “will be compromised” because of the ongoing pandemic.

And it’s not just the AO – also in play is the entire lead-up season, the “Australian summer of tennis”, that includes the ATP Cup.

“Worst-case scenario is no AO (Australian Open),” Tiley told AAP. “Our best-case scenario at this point is having an AO with players that we can get in here with quarantining techniques and Australian-only fans.”

That’s not great news, although the tournament’s publicity department later clarified that it had not, in fact, given up on the possibility of international fans being able to attend.

“But we do have to consider that scenario in our planning,” a spokesperson said. “We have to look at all the angles because a lot of the decisions will be beyond our control and related to government guidelines and restrictions.

So far, AO the only 2020 Slam

Can it really be less than four months ago that the crowds were this close, waiting to get into Melbourne Park? Feels longer than that. (Stephanie Myles/Opencourt.ca)

The 2020 Australian Open back in January – it feels like eons ago, doesn’t it? – is the only Grand Slam tennis tournament that’s been held so far this season.

Wimbledon was cancelled; the French Open proactively rescheduled from early June to late September. An April 23 story in Le Parisien reported that it would push those dates back another week – from Sept. 27 – Oct. 11 for the main event, with the qualifying from Sept. 21-25.

But so far, the original dates remain on the tournament’s website.

French sports minister Roxana Maracineanu said last week that the French Open (and the Tour de France, also postponed from June 27 – July 19 into September), would not be held without spectators.

But Maracineanu walked that back Tuesday. “That would be the worst solution but we woudn’t hesitate to do it if the survival of those sports were in play,” she said during an interview on France Télévisions.

The point may well be moot, anyway. And that’s the situation the US Open, which is scheduled for Aug. 24 – Sept. 13.

The USTA doesn’t plan to make a final decision until next month. Before that, the ATP and WTA will have to make a call on the short post-Wimbledon clay-court swing in Europe, and entire American hard-court season leading up Flushing Meadows.

Already, the Coupe Rogers in Montreal (for the women) has been cancelled for the week of Aug. 10. The men’s event in Toronto, held the same week, is expected to follow suit.

Four scenarios

“There’s four scenarios and we’ve modelled everything. “We’ve modelled the times we have to make decisions, dates we have to make decisions, who it impacts, how it’s going to impact them, Tiley told the AAP.

“We’ve done that for 670 staff. We’ve done that for all of our partners – our media partners, our sponsors and for all the governments and places we rent facilities (from). And now we’re working on the international playing group and getting them to understand what each of those scenarios are and what it means for them and how we can action it.”

We heard a few weeks ago that Tennis Australia was planning some layoffs next month. The Australian Open did have pandemic insurance this year, as Wimbledon notably did. But that insurance expires in July. It’s hard to fathom how much it would cost to renew it – or even if a renewal is possible, given that issuing pandemic insurance in … the middle of a pandemic is not the type of scenario the risk-averse insurance industry tends to love.