Australian Open CEO assures players all is OK for Melbourne

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Australian Open chief executive Craig Tiley is reassuring players that the delayed season-opening Grand Slam tournament will get underway on Feb. 8 and has asked for patience with the logistics and quarantine planning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The world’s leading tennis players are set to start arriving in Melbourne from Jan. 15 and must undergo 14 days in hotel quarantine, although they’ll be allowed to practice for limited periods daily in a bio-secure bubble.

Reports from Europe about players being unclear on charter flight details prompted a series of Twitter posts from Tiley to provide an update. Australian Open organizers are chartering up to 20 flights from Dubai, Singapore and Los Angeles to bring players to Melbourne.

“There have been some unavoidable delays finalizing flight details for players and I’d like to take this opportunity to provide an update,” Tiley posted on Twitter. “There are a lot of pieces to this logistical puzzle and the last few are being finalized right now.

“We appreciate your patience and are conscious that time timelines are very tight.”

The professional circuit resumes this week, with main-draw action Wednesday at the Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open, where Sofia Kenin leads the field, and Thursday at the ATP’s Delray Beach Open.

Women’s singles qualifying or the Australian Open will be staged in Dubai and men’s singles qualifying in Doha, Qatar from Jan. 10-13.

Top-ranked Novak Djokovic and No. 2 Rafael Nadal will be involved in a 12-team ATP Cup to be staged at Melbourne Park, along with a WTA tournament and an ATP 250 event, from Feb. 1-5 to give players some exposure to match play in Australia before the season’s first major.

Despite a small recent outbreak of coronavirus in some parts of Sydney and Melbourne, organizers are still planning to have limited crowds at the Australian Open.

Tennis Australia is hoping to have up to 35% capacity at Melbourne Park, all with ticketed seating and divided into three zones to minimize movement around the sprawling complex. There’s still a chance there’ll be no crowds if the number of coronavirus cases in Melbourne spikes and triggers tighter health and travel restrictions.

“Clearly, if there is significant community spread at the time, the government will make decisions on reducing those crowd numbers, or not,” Tiley told Melbourne radio station 3AW on Wednesday. “Those are the things we’ve got to be ready to change at any point.

“We are not going to put an event on that is going to be unsafe for the community.”

The players will be tested before traveling to Australia and every day during quarantine.

“When they come of their 14 days there’s no way they are going to be in a position where they are going to be spreading the virus,” Tiley said.