MELBOURNE, Australia — The Australian Open and all the regular regional leadup tournaments are set to be staged in Melbourne in January as organizers aim to minimize health risks for players in the coronavirus pandemic.
Tennis Australia plans to transfer tournaments usually held in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Hobart to Melbourne, where a quarantine and practice and playing hub will be set up.
But it’s yet to be cleared.
Australia’s international borders are mostly closed, and there is still differing domestic traveling restrictions between states.
Tennis Australia on Monday told the Associated Press that logistics, including draw sizes and scheduling, were being worked through for the weeks ahead of the Australian Open, which is due to start on Jan. 18. The ATP Cup is scheduled to begin around Australia on Jan. 1.
But Victorian state Premier Daniel Andrews told a later news conference the plan to host all tournaments in Melbourne was “far from a done deal.”
“The notion this is all a done deal and there’s going to be all these tennis players turning up – no, this is not settled at all,” Andrew said, according to Australian Associated Press. “The public health team needs to sign off on all of these arrangements and they are just not settled.”
Mark Handley, who is the ATP Cup general manager and tournament director for the Brisbane International, said Tennis Australia’s plan to move all the tournaments to a secure hub was designed to provide some certainty for the players.
He said the fact hundreds of players and their entourages were coming in from all over the world was “the defining factor” in determining centralizing the tournaments, and local organizers were still working with the ATP and WTA to finalize the calendar.
“It’s really important for us to protect the Australian Open – it generates 90% of our revenue and funds our sport,” in Australia, Handley told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.
“Another key thing to the decision making was that even if the Brisbane International went ahead, there was a real risk that if there was an outbreak in Queensland and Victoria closed its borders, then we’d have players stranded and not being able to compete in the Australian Open.”
Under Tennis Australia plans, international players are expected to start arriving in Australia in mid-December for a 14-day quarantine period.
Some professional sports competitions in Australia, including the National Rugby League, the Australian Football League, Super Rugby and soccer’s A-League, went ahead after an initial lockdown in March with some players living and playing in bio-secure hubs.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley told the Herald-Sun newspaper that organizing the tennis was different from those leagues “because we are bringing in a lot of international people and their entourage so we’ve got to ensure they stay on a very rigid, tough lockdown.”
Tiley said moving all tournaments and players to Victoria would mean that any late changes to interstate travel restrictions triggered by COVID-19 outbreaks would have little impact on the tournaments. Some states closed their borders around South Australia on Monday after 17 new virus cases were recorded. Victoria is just coming out of a strict lockdown that lasted more than two months.
Asked about the Australian plans, top-ranked Novak Djokovic was upbeat.
“I have not noticed much of a doubt whether the tournaments will happen or not,” Djokovic, who said he has spoken to Tiley and Tennis Australia, said in London at the ATP Finals.
“I hope that it will happen. I want to play in Australia – in the Australian Open. I’m not sure about the ATP Cup and the tournaments before because obviously you have to leave quite in advance, actually, I think two-and-a-half or three weeks prior to the first match.”
Djokovic added he’s “hoping for the sake of tennis and sake of players that we will have the Australian Open and also possibly the ATP Cup and a couple more tournaments at least.”
The Australian Open plans are similar to the buildup for the U.S. Open, the first of the tennis majors held after the global sports shutdown, when the Cincinnati tournament was moved to New York ahead of the Grand Slam.
Australian Open organizers are hoping the Victoria state government will allow spectators at Melbourne Park for the Open. At this stage, the state government is allowing a crowd of up to 25% capacity at the 100,000-seat Melbourne Cricket Ground for the Australia vs. India test starting on Dec. 26.
“We want the event to happen, just like the (cricket),” Andrews said. “But the thing about the cricket compared to the tennis is it’s a tiny group of people (who) we think we can quarantine.”
The Australian Open, he said, “is a massive event, it’s an event that all of us love … but it comes at a time when the rest of the world is on fire.”