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The whole Australian summer of tennis could yet be played entirely in Melbourne as Tennis Australia works against the clock to get its quarantine plans approved by state governments.
With the Australian Open only a very remote possibility of not taking place in Melbourne – a move that would effectively mean it had to be cancelled – Tennis Australia has revealed that tickets for January’s grand slam event are set to go on sale on November 26.
Fans watch Roger Federer and John Millman in action on Rod Laver Arena at this year’s Australian Open. All tournaments during the forthcoming Australian summer could yet be played in Melbourne due to the cornavirus. Credit:Getty Images
Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley 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 Tennis Australia and the state governments on quarantine conditions for international tennis stars and limits on crowd numbers are continuing. But the clock is ticking.
“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. However, Tennis Australia has made detailed plans – 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.
Roger Federer has indicated he will return for another tilt at the Australian Open in January.Credit:Getty Images
Players who are seeking to play in the ATP Cup men's teams event – a tournament to be played in Brisbane, Sydney and Perth and set for its second instalment – 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. Now 2019 US Open women's champion Bianca Andresscu says she's ready to relaunch her career at the Australian Open.
Tiley said all the men's and women's top 100 players had completed a "travel commitment form" to get to Australia, despite uncertainty about the conditions they will be subject to.
"Everyone had to complete a travel commitment form and that is a pre-cursor to getting visas," Tiley said.
"All of the top 100 men and women have completed that. Everyone has indicated a desire to travel."
Tennis Australia is still planning on catering for crowds at 25 per cent of their normal capacity for the Australian Open, due to start on January 18. 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.”
He said tennis had a scheduling "challenge" that was different to other sports such as international cricket.
“If there was an outbreak in Brisbane or Melbourne, they could keep the whole cricket season in New South Wales," he said.
“The Australian Open is in Melbourne. So everyone has to get to Melbourne at some point. So we’re much more restricted than the other sports."
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