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Sunday, November 29, 2020

Australian Open: Quarantine regulations put players in a fix

The restrictions, and the subsequent doubt over the tune-up tournaments, may lead to players skipping the Open altogether.

Written by Shahid Judge | Updated: November 20, 2020 8:02:28 pm
Novak Djokovic, Djokovic on 3 sets, 3 sets at Grand Slams, Grand Slam tennis rules, Djokovic on Grand Slam rules, Indian ExpressIn this file photo, Serbia's Novak Djokovic, plays Austria's Dominic Thiem on Rod Laver Arena. (AP)

The 2021 Australian Open is scheduled to start in just under two months, but the roadblocks have started to pile up. The Australian government has announced that no foreign tennis players will be allowed to travel to the country before December 31. Furthermore, the Victorian government has refused to exempt anybody from the mandatory 14-day quarantine period.

In other words, should players choose to travel for the Australian Open, which starts on January 18, they can only enter the country by New Years’, finish self-isolation by January 14, and then start playing four days later without getting to play in any warm-up events. The restrictions, and the subsequent doubt over the tune-up tournaments, may lead to players skipping the Open altogether. “In discussions with Tennis Australia over the past 24 hours, we have been informed there are some new challenges around the previously planned arrival dates for players and team members,” read a letter sent by the ATP to the players.

Shifted events

Earlier this week, Tennis Australia shifted the pre-Australian Open events — scheduled to take place in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra, Perth, and Hobart — to Melbourne. The tournaments include the ATP Cup and the Hobart International, which is a WTA tune-up event.

The motive behind shifting the events to a single city was to create a bubble similar to what had been done ahead of the US Open in August – where the Cincinnati Masters had been shifted to the same venue as the New York Slam. Despite Tennis Australia’s optimism, the state government has made it clear that it is “not a done deal.”

“There was some reporting earlier in the week that this all was some sort of done deal, that there would be lead-up tournaments … and the whole thing was finalised. That reporting was not accurate,” Victoria State Premier Daniel Andrews told The Sydney Morning Herald. Tennis Australia’s initial plan

The organisers’ original idea was to have players travel to Australia by mid-December so that they can finish their quarantine period and be ready to compete at the tune-up events. SMH also reported that Tennis Australia had proposed to create ‘controlled bubbles,’ which would allow players to travel from their designated hotels to tennis courts to allow them to train and stay in shape. The plan, however, is still being negotiated with the government.

Possible repercussion

Tune-up events before the Australian Open are especially crucial for players since they are the first tournaments of the new season. Starting to play competitive matches at the Australian Open after the off-season gap is one thing, if players are forced to stay in their hotel rooms for 14 days without training, and then made to play becomes all the more problematic. And if that is the case, there is a suspicion that most players will opt not to go to Australia at all. Brazilian doubles specialist Bruno Soares, as reported by AFP, deemed it ‘dangerous.’ “I think it’s quite dangerous for the players with no preparation… to go there and compete right away. I think it’s physically very dangerous.”

Bubble expenses

It is estimated that the bubble will cost organisers over AUD 33 million. And with the event expected to have a small number of fans allowed – if any at all – the costs will keep mounting. “I think our broadcast revenue will stay whole because we’ll be able to broadcast across Australia and around the world. Our merchandise numbers will be down, ticket numbers will be down, hospitality will be down and costs will be up. We will run at a loss this year,” Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley told The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.

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