The 2021 Australian Open will proceed in Melbourne — and Melbourne only — despite Victoria’s alarming COVID-19 spike.
- Australian Open boss Craig Tiley said the 2021 edition will have to take place in Melbourne
- Venues in Sydney and Brisbane do not have the necessary capacity
- Tournament organisers have accounted for a number of different scenarios
Victoria on Friday reported another 66 coronavirus cases, the 17th straight day of double-digit infection numbers, prompting talk that the season-opening grand slam may need to shift to either Sydney or Brisbane.
But that won’t be happening, according to tournament boss Craig Tiley, who is continuing to plan for six different scenarios ranging from a worst-case broadcast-only event, to as close to business as usual as possible with strict biosecurity measures in place.
“Nothing has changed for us in terms of our planning,” Tiley told AAP.
“The environment around us has changed, and will continue to change, as we’ve seen with the current spike in Victoria.
“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.”
Melbourne Park the only option in Australia
The reality is, Melbourne Park and its 2km precinct — housing not only state-of-the-art tennis facilities but also a plethora of bars and entertainment hubs — is the only location in Australia equipped to stage a grand slam event.
A total of 33 courts are used during the tournament, including three with retractable roofs, with an additional 18 available at nearby venues.
World tennis’s biggest names and their entourages enjoy a four-storey player pod with gyms, medical and treatment rooms, ice baths, warm-up facilities, change rooms, a beauty bar, concierge and transport reception.
“All this will be in one self-contained area, which will be crucial in COVID times,” Tiley said.
As well as Rod Laver Arena, with a capacity for 15,000 spectators, the National Tennis Centre has four other show courts seating between 3,000 and 11,500 fans.
Sydney, meanwhile, has nine match courts, with one roof still being completed on Ken Rosewall Arena, plus six practice courts, smaller change rooms and dining facilities.
Pat Rafter Arena, which has 5,500 seats but only a floating roof, is one of 23 ITF-standard courts in Brisbane.
The venue’s capacity is for around 10,000 fans, nowhere near the numbers that can be accommodated in Melbourne, which boasts a record daily attendance of 93,709.
So the biggest event on the annual Australian sporting calendar will only go ahead in January in Melbourne, Tiley said.
“The US Open and the French Open are exploring mandatory testing, varying levels of quarantine and limiting entourages,” he said.
“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 risk of playing tournaments during coronavirus has been exposed when multiple players and coaches were infected during the Adria Cup tournament in the Balkans, organised by men’s world number one, Novak Djokovic.
Nick Kyrgios lead the condemnation of Djokovic’s tournament, describing the behaviour of players involved as “boneheaded” before later firing up at Alex Zverev after he was filmed in breach of isolation restrictions, despite being a close contact of those players who did contract the virus.
Grand slam tennis is set to resume in late August with the US Open, although some of the world’s leading players have expressed concerns at playing during the pandemic.