Following the ATP’s announcement of the first 7 weeks of the 2021 ATP Tour, the WTA has released its schedule for the same period, with Abu Dhabi opening play, the first top flight women’s event to be held since Linz in Austria, over a month ago.
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. Steve Simon, WTA CEO
In just over two weeks’ time, the WTATour will start its new season, still under the shadow of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic that has already impacted the calendar with the three-week delay of the Australian Open, the qualifying for which will take place in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates from 10-13 January, just 150 kilometres from Doha.
This coincides with the men’s qualification event being held in Doha.
The WTA has worked diligently with tournaments and players to provide as many job opportunities as possible while being mindful of increased travel restrictions and mandatory quarantine guidelines set forth by local governments.
The season kicks off at the Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open, a WTA 500 level event, from 5-13 January at the Zayed Sports City International Tennis Centre.
H.E. Aref Al Awani, General Secretary of Abu Dhabi Sports Council, said, “We are delighted to welcome to Abu Dhabi WTA’s 2021 kick-off event, the Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open.
“Abu Dhabi is a global capital of world sport and the presence of top tennis players from around the world at this time only strengthens that position and reinforces our esteemed reputation.”
With the AO qualifying taking place in Dubai the following week, both events allow for travel to Melbourne from one of Tennis Australia’s designated charter flight hubs of Dubai (in addition to Singapore and Los Angeles).
On conclusion of these 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 to 7 February.
The 2021 Australian Open will then take place 8- 21 February, inclusive of singles, doubles and mixed doubles, with Sofia Kenin of the United States aiming to defend her women’s singles title.
A WTA 250 tournament is also scheduled to be held in the second week of the Australian Open to enable athletes to remain in Melbourne.
Australia has registered more than 28,000 coronavirus cases, resulting in more than 900 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, but it was won international praise for how it dealt with the health crisis and now has strict entry barriers.
With COVID-19 rates extremely low in many areas, full stadiums are permitted in much of Australia.
“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,” Steve Simon, the WTA CEO, said.
“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 also confirmed the 250-level tournaments in Auckland in New Zealand and Shenzhen in China will not be held in 2021 due to travel restrictions and the mandatory quarantine period, but both are scheduled to return to the WTA Tour calendar in 2022.
A further announcement is expected to be made by the WTA in the coming weeks with an updated calendar.
In 2020, the Australian Open was the only one of the four Grand Slams not to be impacted by the coronavirus crisis, with Wimbledon being cancelled, while the French Open and US Open were both postponed but eventually held in bubbles.
The Victorian Government finally approved TA’s quarantine plans over the weekend, and confirmed the AO start date of 8 February, three weeks later than usual.
Craig Tiley, the AO Tournament Director, was at pains to stress that the chartered flights meant players would not be taking airline seats away from Australian citizens stranded overseas for months due to COVID-19 border restrictions.
Before they get on a flight, players must provide a negative COVID test in a 48-hour window and they will be tested again on arrival before receiving further tests – getting a minimum of five through their two-weeks of modified quarantine.
Tiley added that players would be kept in a highly-secure environment while shuttled between their hotel room and Melbourne Park for their permitted five hours a day of training.
The limit of one specified training partner for the first week would likely be expanded to 2-3 hitting partners for the second week.
He said all players would have the chance to play at least one warm up tournament before the Australian Open, with the men’s ATP Cup team tournament, two ATP events and two WTA tournaments taking place in Melbourne the week beforehand.
“We can provide the necessary assurances that the quarantine environment will be one of the safest places in the world to be,” said Tiley, adding that would also ensure community protection.
With entries due to close next week, Tiley said all of the world’s top players were committed at this stage, although he admitted that could still change before the deadline arrived.
A question mark remains over biggest drawcard Roger Federer, who is hoping to fully overcome knee surgery in time to play.
Tiley said he had been in touch with Federer’s camp and the six-time champion had begun practising for the first time in the past three days as he begins his pre-season training camp in Dubai.
AO tickets go on sale from Wednesday, with Tiley bullish about likely crowd sizes but acknowledging that could change depending on any possible COVID-19 outbreaks.
“It is a forever changing position and [crowd] number, but we fully expect to welcome at least 50 per cent of what we have previously had,” he said.
“AO 2021 is going to be all about supporting local businesses—our tennis coaches, the farmers, food and wine producers, chefs, artists and musicians—and celebrating everything that is great about our country, as well as providing opportunities to those who’ve been so hard hit during the pandemic, particularly in Melbourne and Victoria.”
In other women’s tennis news, earlier this week, the Billie Jean King Cup (formerly Fed Cup) announced that its 2021 play-offs would occur on 16-17 April 16.
Meanwhile, the WTA continues to closely monitor the evolving status of tournaments for the remainder of 2021 with an announcement in the coming weeks surrounding a more expansive calendar.