Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley has revealed that bio-secure bubbles will be set up for players competing in next year’s Australian Open, which he hopes will go ahead with as many as 400,000 fans in January.

Melbourne is scheduled to host the Australian Open from January 18-31 and while there is a possibility the event could be postponed until later in the year, Tiley is confident the planned dates will remain in place.

A spike in COVID-19 cases in Melbourne has prompted a full lockdown in the city but a number of measures are being put in place by Tennis Australia to ensure the grand slam can go ahead on time and as safely as possible.

Tiley told the Reuters news agency that five bio-secure bubbles will open in Perth, Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne some six weeks before the tournament starts to ease the transition for overseas players.

“When the players arrive, our expectation is they’re not going to be in a hotel for 14 days like the current requirements are,” Tiley told Reuters. “We’ll have an exemption within this bio-secure bubble.

“We’ve said every year that we’re the ‘happy slam’. But now we’re saying we’re the ‘very safe and happy slam.”

Tiley explained that a number of scenarios have been set up for staging the event. The first scenario would see the Australian Open go ahead in a similar way to the 2020 edition, while another option would see the tournament take place with limited crowds.

“Scenario three was behind closed doors, a broadcast-only event,” Tiley said. Scenario four was moving to another time of the year. And scenario five is no event at all.”

Tiley is hoping that as many as 400,000 fans will be able to attend the tournament – around half the amount that turned out for the 2020 edition – with an operational plan having been established to determine where spectators will be positioned around the 2.5km site.

Sydney had expressed an interest in stepping in to host the tournament if Melbourne was unable to, but Tiley said: “I’m optimistic and positive that we’ll have an event and it’ll be in Melbourne.”

Tiley also insisted that the A$71m (£38.8m/€43m/$50.9m) prize fund would not be reduced despite the anticipated loss in revenue from the event.

Image: Melbourne & Olympic Parks