MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — The Australian Open and all the regular interstate leadup tournaments for the season’s first tennis major will be staged in Melbourne in January in a bid to minimize risks for players traveling and quarantining during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tennis Australia will transfer the tournaments from Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Hobart to Melbourne, where a quarantine and practice hub and a bio-secure playing hub will be set up for the sport’s elite players. Australia’s international borders are restricted, and there is still differing domestic traveling restrictions between states.
Tennis Australia said logistics, including draw sizes and scheduling, were being worked through for the weeks ahead of the Australian Open, which is due to start Jan. 18. Mark Handley, who is the ATP Cup general manager and tournament director for the Brisbane International, said the decision to move all Australia’s tournaments to a secure hub was done to provide some certainty for the players and allow them enough time to prepare for the Australian Open.
“There’s an influx of 2,600 international players and their entourages coming in from all over the world, that’s the defining factor,” Handley told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.
He said organizers were still working with the women’s and men’s professional tours to determine the calendar of events.
“It’s really important for us to protect the Australian Open — it generates 90% of our revenue and funds our sport,” in Australia, Handley said. “Another key thing to the decision making was that even if the Brisbane International went ahead, there was a real risk that if there was an outbreak in Queensland and Victoria closed its borders, then we’d have players stranded and not being able to compete in the Australian Open.”
International players are expected to start arriving in Australia in mid-December for a 14-day quarantine period.
Some professional sports competitions in Australia, including the National Rugby League, the Australian Football League and Super Rugby and soccer’s A-League, went ahead with some players living and playing in bio-secure hubs during the season.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley told the Herald-Sun newspaper that organizing the tennis was different “because we are bringing in a lot of international people and their entourage so we’ve got to ensure they stay on a very rigid, tough lockdown.”
Tiley said moving all tournaments and players to Victoria state would mean that late changes to interstate travel restrictions would have little impact on the tournament. The Australian Open plans are similar to the buildup for the U.S. Open, the first of the tennis majors held after the global sports shutdown for the coronavirus, when the Cincinnati tournament was moved to New York ahead of the Grand Slam event.
Australian Open organizers are hoping the Victoria state government will allow spectators at Melbourne Park for the Australian Open. At this stage, the state government is allowing a crowd of up to 25% capacity at the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the Australia vs. India test match starting Dec. 26.