November 25, 2020

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Australia

The Australian Open is scheduled to go ahead – part of what looks to be a five-week Australian summer that will be extended a week beyond the main event. (Stephanie Myles/Opencourt.ca)

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All the players have anxiously been awaiting word on what the opening section of the 2021 WTA Tour schedule will look like.

Nothing’s been announced publicly by the WTA (although the players were informed this week).

But the ITF issued an “anticipated” schedule Friday to ITF players that included both a number of planned tournaments on their side – as well as the WTA events.

Open Court has been able to obtain additional details about what the WTA is planning for the the summer in Australia. And it includes a big increase in playing opportunities.

It’s yet another concrete example of how the various stakeholders in tennis are having trouble getting their act together.

But the information sent by the ITF and the information given by the WTA Tour to its players this week match up.

Week 1 – three events

The first week of the season, beginning Jan. 4, will have an International level and a Premier 700 level tournament on the WTA Tour side, plus a $60,000 ITF tournament.

Where?

The answer to that is the essence of the expression “to be determined”.

The perennial “Week 1” tournament in Auckland, NZ has already been cancelled for 2021.

Australia
Brisbane played host to ATP Cup pool play as well as a WTA Premier event in January. Will they do it again in 2021? (Stephanie Myles/Opencourt.ca)

There’s no word on the other International-level event in Shenzhen, China. But it seems self-evident that players couldn’t possibly play in China and still get through quarantine in time to play the Australian Open.

That’s also true of the season-opening ATP Tour event in Doha.

To be held, they would have to take place in early December, before the quarantine period. Or be moved after the Australian summer to February.

Notably, both WTA Tour events will have expanded 56-player singles draws, 32-player qualifying draws – and 28-team doubles draws.

The deadline is in a flash – Nov. 23, a week from Monday.

The ITF event will have a 32-player singles draw, a 16-team doubles draw and a 16-player qualies draw (to be finalized).

Week 2 – Two WTA events, plus AO qualies

The second week, which begins Jan. 11, will also have an International-level and a Premier 700 tournament, but with smaller draws.

Both are expected to have 24 in the qualifying, and 16 doubles teams. The Premier will have a 32-player draw with byes for the top two seeds; the International tournament will have a 32-player draw.

The Australian Open qualifying – to take place from Tuesday, Jan. 11 through Friday, Jan. 15 – is listed as having a full 128-player draw although we have heard that is not completely carved in stone as yet.

The deadline for the qualifying is also a week from Monday.

Australia
Will the charming joint event in Adelaide – held the week before the Australian Open in January – be able to return in 2021? Jury’s still out. (Stephanie Myles/Opencourt.ca)

Weeks 3 & 4 – Extra playing opps

For the first time, the WTA Tour is planning a WTA 125K tournament the second week of the Australian Open.

That tournament will have the regular draw sizes, although with an entry deadline of Jan. 4, there won’t be much flexibility for those who lose early in the first Grand Slam of 2021 to opt to play that tournament.

Perhaps they will add extra wild cards to the format to compensate for that.

The ITF also plans a $60K tournament that week.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova wades through the crowd at the Australian Open in January. (Stephanie Myles/Opencourt.ca)

Week 5 – a bonus week

As well, the WTA plans another International-level tournament the week after the Australian Open (the week of Feb. 1).

That will extend the WTA Australian summer season an extra week beyond when it would normally take place.

The deadline for that tournament also is Jan. 4.

Players who have Fed Cup obligations will have a conflict, as the qualifying ties are also scheduled for that week.

Whether those players will have to quarantine when they get either back home or to the site of their Fed Cup tie is another potential monkey wrench that could be thrown in the works.

The ITF will also have a $60K event that week. But that’s not out of the norm; typically there is a women’s event in Burnie, Tasmania that week.

Quick decisions, with not much information

What’s unclear at this point is where these events will occur.

Tennis Australia is still wrestling with the governmental authorities and the uncertainty of travel between states in the country.

We’re hearing from Adelaide, which held a joint event in 2019 for the first time (after the city of Sydney was co-opted for the ATP Cup), that most of the signs point towards most – if not all – of the tournaments during the Australian summer being held in Melbourne.

All of this planning is best-case scenario planning. There are still so many unknowns.

It’s getting late early in Australia

Australia
Scenes like this are unlikely at the 2021 Australian Open, where the best-case scenario right now is 25 per cent of the regular massive crowds. (Stephanie Myles/Opencourt.ca)

The other challenge is that according to the ITF’s information, only players accepted into the Australian Open main draw or qualifying will be allowed to enter the country for the five-week period of tournaments.

Players living in Australia will also, obviously, be eligible.

There’s no information yet about how alternates for the Australian Open qualies and main draw – and the cutoff there is lower than the other Grand Slams even under normal conditions – can be made eligible.

And, of course, the players will have to complete a mandatory quarantine, in a hotel not of their own choosing, for 14 days before they can even play.

Unless that changes, the players will all need to arrive in Australia by mid-December at the latest – just a month from now.

(We’ll pass along any ATP information we’re able to dig up, as soon as we can).