MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — The Australian Open and all the regular regional leadup tournaments for the season’s first tennis major are set to be staged in Melbourne in January, with organizing aiming to minimize risks for players traveling and quarantining during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tennis Australia plans to transfer tournaments usually held in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Hobart to Melbourne, where a quarantine and practice hub and a bio-secure playing hub will be set up. But it’s yet to be given the all-clear.
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 Jan. 18.
But Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews told a later news conference the plans to host the entire series of tournaments in Melbourne were “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 the tournament moving the tournaments, and local organizers were still working with the women’s and men’s professional tours to determine the calendar of events.
"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 and 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 during the season.
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 state would mean that any late changes to interstate travel restrictions triggered by COVID-19 outbreaks would have little impact on the tournament. Some states closed their borders on South Australia on Monday after 17 new cases of coronavirus were recorded. Victoria is just coming out of a strict lockdown that lasted more than two months.
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 for the coronavirus, when the Cincinnati tournament was moved to New York ahead of the Grand Slam event.
Australian Open organizers are hoping the Victoria state government will allow spectators at Melbourne Park for the Australian 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 match starting 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."