As the 2020 season draws to a close, attention turns to Down Under where next year’s Adelaide International tournament has been thrown into doubt after Tennis Australia confirmed it was considering shifting its entire summer program to Melbourne.
To have those multi-city events, we would need two things. We would need a quarantine plan that gets approved by each state. The second one is we would need a commitment from governments that there can be free travel from state to state. You never know, we may be in the unfortunate position that there’s a sudden infection spike of 100 people in January. And the other cities will shut down travel and we’ll have players stuck there. Craig Tiley, CEO Tennis Australia
The uncertainty comes after two other large Adelaide sporting events, the Adelaide 500 Supercars season opener and next year’s Tour Down Under cycling race, were cancelled over the past week.
Tennis SA and the State Government, however, have said they are still preparing to host the WTA and ATP women’s and men’s events at Memorial Drive.
Tennis Australia has proposed bubbles in various cities to allow international players to train and play ahead of local tournaments and January’s Australian Open, but the plans need approval from state governments.
Along with the Adelaide International and the Hobart International, the ATP Cup is scheduled for Brisbane, Sydney and Perth.
In order to ensure players do not get stuck interstate if there is a coronavirus outbreak outside of Victoria, TA is considering moving all tournaments to Melbourne, and has until next week to make a decision.
The new Adelaide International event was first run at a new look Memorial Drive in January, replacing the Sydney International.
Adelaide International Tournament Director Alistair MacDonald said moving all tennis tournaments to Melbourne was one of ‘six or seven scenarios on the cards’ to ensure players could make it to the Australian Open.
“Looking at all these scenarios is the right thing to do, but we haven’t made a decision on any of these, albeit we are getting closer to where we have to make a decision,” MacDonald said, adding that the tournament had a ‘really great first year’ and organisers were ‘keen as mustard to run a second one’.
“We’re doing everything we can to do that — we’re working with [the South Australian] Government, we’re working with SA Health,” he said.
“We’re confident at the moment in our plans, but there is an element of risk there and as you get closer to the end of November decisions will have to be made.
“Let’s hope, collectively, we can ensure players can get to Melbourne to play the Australia Open because we want them to get to Melbourne.”
TA is working against the clock to get its quarantine plans approved by state governments, and has revealed that tickets for January’s Grand Slam event are set to go on sale on 26 November.
Craig Tiley, TA’s CEO, told The Age and Sydney Morning Herald that D-Day looms at the end of next week to make a call on whether to persist with a multi-city calendar for the summer, or to instead schedule all lead-in events at Melbourne Park.
As Victoria slowly eases out of coronavirus restrictions with racing’s Melbourne Cup carnival taking place without fans at Flemington, negotiations between TA and the state governments on quarantine conditions for international tennis stars and limits on crowd numbers are continuing.
“To have those multi-city events, we would need two things. We would need a quarantine plan that gets approved by each state,” Tiley said.
“The second one is we would need a commitment from governments that there can be free travel from state to state.
“You never know, we may be in the unfortunate position that there’s a sudden infection spike of 100 people in January. And the other cities will shut down travel and we’ll have players stuck there.”
All international tennis players face the reality of having to serve a two-week period of quarantine before they can play any competition Down Under.
TA, however, has made detailed plans, which have yet to receive final government sign-off, for ‘controlled bubbles’ in various cities that allow players to travel from hotels to practice courts.
“The two-week controlled bubble will be a very strict environment,” Tiley said.
“The objectives will be to protect the community, so the players while they’re training will only go from their hotel room to the courts, and then back to the hotel room in a secure protected environment.
“There will obviously be significant testing in that bubble. Our objective will be to make it the safest and securest bubble anywhere in the world.
“Then after two weeks the players can come out and they become members of the community, because they’re negative and they’re not carriers of COVID.”
The requirement for players to have 14 days in quarantine before competition exceeds what was required of players at this year’s US Open or rescheduled French Open.
Players seeking to play in the second ATP Cup men’s teams event in Brisbane, Sydney and Perth, as well as scheduled events in Hobart, Adelaide and Canberra, will need to arrive in Australia in mid-December in order to complete their quarantine in time.
“Players will come in the middle of December and it will be two weeks [of quarantine] before the summer, and then they’ll have four-five weeks of being able to play tennis at Melbourne if it’s all the events … if not it will be events in other cities and then the Australian Open.”
Tiley confirmed officials had sought approval for international tennis stars to play sanctioned events while undergoing quarantine, as has happened in other cities.
“At this point our governments have not approved that,” he said. “Anything is a possibility, but we’re not banking on that.”
Serena Williams and Roger Federer have already pledged to come to Australia this summer, while 2019 US Open women’s champion Bianca Andresscu says she is ready to relaunch her career at the Australian Open.
“Everyone had to complete a travel commitment form and that is a precursor to getting visas,” Tiley said.
“All of the top 100 men and women have completed that. Everyone has indicated a desire to travel.”
TA is still planning on catering for crowds at 25 per cent of their normal capacity for the Australian Open, due to start on 18 January, while cricket’s Boxing Day Test at the MCG has received approval for a similar capacity.
When asked if the Australian Open could, somehow, be scrapped for 2021, Tiley said: “At this point, no.”
After serious doubts were cast as to whether the ATP Cup would proceed, a top ATP official refuted the earlier claims.
“Probably everything will happen in Melbourne,” Herwig Straka, a senior member of the ATP Board of Directors said recently. “Chances for ATP Cup are 50/50. The Australian Open will definitely be played.”
Straka said the ATP is already ‘working on different scenarios’ for tournaments in February’, which usually sees the South American tennis swing, but because these events are doubtful for 2021, he suggested organisers could also push the Australian Open by a bit.
His claims differ from Victoria’s Sports Minister Martin Pakula, who said that the Australian Open presents a huge logistical challenge.
“Apart from the issue of crowds, you’ve got the issue of getting hundreds of players and their entourages into Melbourne… The logistical issues with the Australian Open are significant,” Pakula said.
A couple of weeks ago, the WTA canceled an event in Limoges to enable players to settle in early and quarantine for Melbourne ahead of the Australia Open due to run from 18-31 January.
Looking further at the schedule, Straka said a decision is needed soon on the viability of the Masters events in Indian Wells and Miami, both of which could be played without fans.