Tennis fans starved of action can look forward to next week when both tours kick off 2021 in Delray Beach and Abu Dhabi to open the new season still under extreme pressure due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The first challenge to face was the health and safety protocols and the Covid test because it was new for us and we are talking about many things like on-site testing, creating bubble with the hotel, transport from airport to hotel, from hotel to tournament, then back and forth between tournament and hotel. We are talking about hundreds and hundreds of tests over the course of 10-12 days. John Butler, Tournament Director Delray Beach
The Delray Beach Open starts off the ATP Tour from Monday, 4 January, having moved from its original date that clashed with the Australian Open’s move to 8 February.
Organisers have made significant changes in the midst of the global pandemic to ensure that the tournament in Florida takes place safely.
The 2021 edition will be the only ATP Tour event to feature both the ATP 250 and the ATP Champions Tour and attendance will be capped at 2000, just under 25 % of the Delray Beach Tennis Center’s capacity, to accommodate social distancing while all attendees will be required to wear masks during the tournament.
The Delray Beach Open will feature the ATP Tour Legends tournament from 4 to 6 January and the ATP 250 qualifying round on 5-6 January.
The main draw for the ATP 250 tournament, which will feature 28 singles players and 16 doubles teams, will start on 7 January.
There are two sessions every day until the day of the final on Wednesday 13 January.
“The first challenge to face was the health and safety protocols and the Covid test because it was new for us and we are talking about many things like on-site testing, creating bubble with the hotel, transport from airport to hotel, from hotel to tournament, then back and forth between tournament and hotel,” said Tournament Director John Butler.
“We are talking about hundreds and hundreds of tests over the course of 10-12 days.
“It’s going to be tough and it will take a couple of years to get back on par.
“We are limiting ourselves to 2000 spectators per session.
“We are currently implementing the highest standards. We are not obliged to do this under the rules of Florida, but we are doing it to ensure the safety of the crowd”,
The Delray Beach line-up features four former champions Kei Nishikori (2008), Sam Querrey (2016), Frances Tiafoe (2018) and Reilly Opelka (2020), three-time Grand Slam champion and two-time Olympic gold medallist Andy Murray, John Isner and Christian Garin.
Murray will start the Delray Beach tournament as a wild-card.
“I am looking forward to starting the 2021 season in Delray Beach. This event will be a good test for me and I am excited to be back playing on the Tour”, said Murray.
Meanwhile, the WTA 500 event, which runs from January 5-13 at Zayed Sports City International Tennis Centre, will feature 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, WTA World No.5 Elina Svitolina, former World No.1 Karolina Pliskova and Aryna Sabalenka, winner of the last two WTA titles of the 2020 season.
This is a new event on the women’s tour and features a 64 singles main draw and 32 doubles pairs, with $565,530 in prize money on offer.
It preceeds the Australian Open qualifying due to take place in Dubai from 10-13 January, with both events then allowing for travel to Melbourne from one of Tennis Australia’s designated charter flight hubs of Dubai, Singapore and Los Angeles.
On conclusion of those events, players and their respective support teams will travel to Australia where they will complete the mandatory two-week quarantine.
Following the quarantine period, two WTA 500 tournaments will be held concurrently in Melbourne Park from 31 January – 7 February.
The 2021 Australian Open will then take place from 8-21 February inclusive of singles, doubles and mixed doubles.
A WTA 250 will be held the second week of the Australian Open, allowing athletes to remain in Melbourne, securing three weeks of competition.
Steve Simon, WTA Chairman and CEO, said: “We are excited to announce the first swing of tournaments representing the opening weeks of the 2021 WTA season, all of which will operate in an environment that puts health and safety at the forefront.
“We want to express our sincere appreciation for the cooperation between key tennis stakeholders and organisations, along with the local health authorities who have been vital in getting us to this point.
“The hard work will continue as we look further ahead into 2021 to ensure a safe and robust calendar.”
The WTA has yet to announce any further details of its calendar beyond Melbourne, but the ATP has scheduled the first quarter of its Tour for 2021.