The 2021 Australian Open, the opening Grand Slam tennis tournament of the year, will not be relocated from Melbourne to another city despite a recent rise in the number of Covid-19 cases in the state of Victoria, according to Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley.
Speculation has mounted about the 2021 edition of the competition after about 300,000 people were ordered back into lockdown measures this week in Victoria to “ring-fence” 10 postcodes that have reported spikes, contributing to nearly 500 active cases in the state at the latest count.
However, Tiley rejected reports that the event may need to be shifted to Sydney or Brisbane if the outbreak is not brought under control in Victoria by outlining how preparations are taking place for a total of six different possible scenarios in Melbourne – ranging from no spectators at all to business as usual.
“Nothing has changed for us in terms of our planning,” Tiley told the AAP news agency. “The environment around us has changed, and will continue to change, as we’ve seen with the current spike in Victoria.
“We’re optimistic the additional measures currently in place will be successful — and restrictions will continue to be eased over the coming months.
“So, I’m confident we will run the Australian Open in Melbourne and other events around Australia in January and we’re working closely with all our authorities on the regulations regarding mass gatherings, physical distancing and increased hygiene that are being put in place.”
Rival cities have long expressed an interest in poaching the high-profile tennis tournament from Melbourne, but thanks to a series of major funding and redevelopment pledges by the Victorian Government, in 2017 Tennis Australia struck a deal to keep the event at Melbourne Park until 2036.
Melbourne Park features a total of 33 courts during the Australian Open, three of which have retractable roofs, as well as a state-of-the-art player ‘pod’ that offers fitness and medical facilities.
Tiley added that Australian Open organisers will be watching on with interest to see how protocols are applied with the final two Grand Slams of 2020 – the US Open and French Open. The hardcourt US Open is still scheduled to take place from August 24 to September 13, but the claycourt French Open, postponed from its original dates in late May and early June, will now take place from September 27 to October 11.
Yesterday (Thursday), the French Tennis Federation set out its plans to ensure a spectator capacity of 50% to 60% at this year’s French Open.
“The US Open and the French Open are exploring mandatory testing, varying levels of quarantine and limiting entourages,” Tiley added. “Of course, we are looking at all these options, and more, as part of our scenario planning.
“It’s difficult to predict exactly what will need to be in place as guidelines and protocols are changing week by week, and sometimes even day by day.”
The Australian Open’s organisers have been saddled with significant contingency planning due unforeseen circumstances for a second consecutive year.
Earlier this year, amid devastating bushfires across the country, a series of measures were lined up due to concerns about air quality in the build-up to the 2020 tournament.
Image: Melbourne & Olympic Parks