‘Crunch time’ for ATP Cup and Australian Open 2021 plans

hannahwilks in Australian Open 15 Oct 2020
The Rod Laver Arena during the 2020 Australian Open men’s final (AntoineCouvercelle/Panoramic.)

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley admitted it is ‘crunch time’ for determining whether the Grand Slam will be able to go ahead as planned in 2021.

The 2021 Australian Open is scheduled to be played from 18-31 January in Melbourne, Australia and tournament director Craig Tiley insisted he remains confident that the Grand Slam will be played – as long as the issue of players being required to quarantine can be worked out.

As matters stand it appears certain that players arriving in Australia for the Australian Open, and the other tournaments played across the country in the run-up to it, will be required to quarantine for 14 days.

Tiley does not see this as an insurmountable problem, however, provided a deal can be worked out with health authorities to enable players to access practice facilities during their quarantine time.

The Australian Open tournament director told Australian Associated Press:

‘If a player has to quarantine and be stuck in a hotel for two weeks just before their season, that won’t happen. You can’t ask players to quarantine for two weeks and then step out and be ready to play a grand slam.’

Tiley has previously declared that Roger Federer and Serena Williams have both committed to playing the 2021 Australian Open, and said that the tournament would ‘move heaven and earth’ to make its 2021 edition happen in Melbourne despite a spike in cases which saw the state of Victoria placed under strict restrictions.

While Wimbledon was cancelled in 2020 for the first time since the Second World War, the US Open and French Opens both went ahead more or less successfully, albeit with players enclosed in a bio-security bubble. There were no spectators allowed at the US Open and very limited numbers at Roland Garros, but the Australian Open is hoping to allow 25% of fan capacity with players to be limited to three entourage members each.

In 2020, Tennis Australia launched its new-look ‘tennis summer’, with a ten-day multi-city ATP Cup played in Brisbane, Sydney and Perth followed by an ATP 250 in Sydney, while the WTA had tournaments in Brisbane, Adelaide and Sydney before the Australian Open itself began in mid-January. But to replicate such a format in 2021, state and federal governments would have to relax border restrictions. At the moment, Western Australia’s borders are closed to the rest of Australia and Queensland’s border with New South Wales is yet to open, among other travel restrictions. World no. 1 Ashleigh Barty cited an inability to practice with her coach due to border restrictions as one of the reasons for pulling out of the French Open.

‘Right now the challenge we have is the borders are still closed,’ Tiley said.

‘So we’ve got a plan on the basis that there will be all open borders. So we’re working with all state governments. We completely accept that everyone coming from overseas has got to have two weeks in quarantine.

‘What we are negotiating, or what we’re trying to have an agreement on, is that we set up a quarantine environment where they can train and go between the hotel and the courts in those two weeks.

‘That’s similar to the AFL. The difference we have with the AFL is we are bringing in players from overseas so the stakes are higher.’

Tiley admitted that time is growing short for the ATP Cup, in particular, to be held as planned, saying:

‘We’re getting to crunch time now. We need commitments from the governments and the health officers.

‘We need to kind of know in the next two weeks, maybe a month, that this is what can happen: borders are going to open and then we can have a multi-city event.

‘If we cannot have a multi-city event, we’ve got to reconsider everything.’

One possibility is that some tournaments – the ATP Cup and the Brisbane, Adelaide and Hobart Internationals – could be moved to Melbourne and be played at Melbourne Park ahead of the Australian Open, similar to how the Western & Southern Open, a Masters 1000 Series event traditionally played in Cincinnati, was relocated to New York to give players a chance to play a warm-up tournament in the ‘bubble’.

Tiley’s job is unlikely to have been made easier by the news that American player Sam Querrey, competing at the St Petersburg Open this week, reportedly fled Russia on a private jet with his family after testing positive for COVID-19 in contravention of both government health policy and the ATP’s code of conduct.