MELBOURNE (AFP) – The Australian Open was pushed back to February 8 yesterday after weeks of negotiations as coronavirus disruption hits a second Grand Slam tennis season.
Men’s qualifiers will be held in Doha but Australia will host a series of build-up events including the flagship ATP Cup, the men’s ATP Tour said, announcing its early 2021 schedule.
The three-week delay to the season’s opening Grand Slam comes after this year’s Wimbledon was cancelled – for the first time since World War II – the French Open was postponed and the United States (US) Open was played behind closed doors.
Fans are expected to be allowed at Melbourne Park, the tournament’s venue, as the coronavirus is under control in Australia, but players will need to undergo 14 days of quarantine.
Confirmation of the February 8-21 dates follows protracted talks between Tennis Australia and state authorities in Melbourne, which emerged from a months-long lockdown in October following a second wave of Covid-19. Originally due to start on January 18, players will now arrive in Australia from January 15 to serve two weeks in a bio-secure bubble, many of them coming from countries where the pandemic is still raging.
Earlier reports said they would stay at designated hotels but would be allowed to practise and exercise for up to five hours a day, shuttled between their accommodation and Melbourne Park.
There was no immediate confirmation of the arrangements from Tennis Australia.
The ATP said men’s qualifiers for the Grand Slam would be held from January 10-13 in Doha, before players and limited support staff travel to Australia.
A slimmed-down, 12-team ATP Cup, the relocated Adelaide International, and an ATP 250 tournament will all be held in Melbourne ahead of the Slam which is now scheduled from February 8-21.
There was no word on where the women will play their qualifiers, with the WTA yet to announce its early-season schedule. But WTA tournaments are also expected to be played in Melbourne before the Open.