Pandemonium, chaos, and uncertainty.
Of course, I’m talking about 2020.
For the world of tennis, players and fans have watched the year unfold skeptically as the coronavirus pandemic has caused disruption all around the world.
But the 2020 season has managed to limp through, although resembling a disfigured and a rather soulless version of its 2019 predecessor.
With the ATP and WTA tours taking extended sabbaticals, Wimbledon being cancelled, and the U.S. Open and Roland Garros only just taking place, with the bare minimum number of fans in attendance, it has been a very difficult year for the sport.
But some normality will return in 2021.
The 109th edition of the Australian Open will take place this coming January and is set to host the largest number of spectators that we have seen attend a sporting event this year.
Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley has stated that he remains “absolutely” confident that the Australian Open will go ahead between the 18th and 31st January, albeit with a few changes in light of the rules regarding the pandemic.
Roger Federer and Serena Williams have both also now committed to playing in the 2021 Australian Open, a huge boost for the Tournament and we’re expecting more blockbuster players to follow suit.
After the success of the U.S. and French Opens, with only one player testing positive for COVID-19 during both tournaments, a challenge now faces Tennis Australia and the Australian Government, to put in place effective safeguards that will ensure the ‘Happy Slam’ will also be the ‘Safe Slam’.
All international arrivals to Australia currently have to quarantine for a 14 day period and the same will go for players competing at the Australian Open.
But Tiley, working with states across Australia, has suggested that players will be able to Quarantine in bio-secure hubs where there they will be able to train and prepare for the Australian Open.
“If a player has to quarantine and be stuck in a hotel for two weeks just before their season, that won’t happen,” Tiley said speaking to the Australian Associated Press on 15th October.
“You can’t ask players to quarantine for two weeks and then step out and be ready to play in a grand slam.”
Similar to how the Australian Football season has worked this year, the proposed quarantine bubbles could be set up to host players across the six states and two territories of Australia.
Here, players and their entourage of no more than 3 team members will be able to train and prepare for the Open while they complete their mandatory 14-day quarantine.
“So we’ve got a plan on the basis that there will be all open borders. So we’re working with all state governments. We completely accept that everyone coming from overseas has got to have two weeks in quarantine,” said Tiley.
“What we are negotiating, or what we’re trying to have an agreement on, is that we set up a quarantine environment where they (players) can train and go between the hotel and the courts in those two weeks.”
Although the system would be akin to the AFL hub arrangements, players would dissimilarly be travelling into Australia from overseas and could be harder to track and monitor as opposed to a full squad of AFL players.
Although this won’t be the first major tournament this year that has required international players to quarantine prior to taking part in the event.
For example, the Australian men’s cricket team were placed in a bio-secure bubble when they arrived in England earlier this year for their T20 and ODI series.
And similar to the Australian cricket team, players attending the Australian Open and their team members would also have to undergo regular coronavirus tests to ensure they were safe to participate in the Tournament.
In anticipation of the start of the Australian summer tennis schedule, Tiley is confident that Tennis Australia can provide a safe environment for warm-up tournaments like the Hobart, Adelaide, and Brisbane Invitationals, and the ATP cup which takes place across multiple states in Australia.
Some updates regarding AO. Will be fun I guess. pic.twitter.com/I0hTuzFdpy— Lukas Lacko (@lukilacko) September 26, 2020
But this is all in anticipation that domestic border restrictions in Australia will losen up towards the end of the year, as Australia starts to see a reduction in COVID-19 infection rates.
“We need to kind of know in the next two weeks, maybe a month, that this is what can happen: borders are going to open and then we can have a multi-city event.”
As for the fans, depending on government and specialist advice, Tiley is predicting that the event could see between 25-50% of 2020’s spectators in attendance at the event.
That’s anywhere between 100,000 to 400,000 fans.
Tennis Australia have an area of 2.5kms on Melbourne Park they can use to ensure proper social distancing measures are put into place and that fans, players, coaches, and officials are all equally protected.
“We’ve established a strategy and an operational plan for all our fans and how they will be positioned around the site,” said Tiley.
“We’ve worked out, with the requirements on physical distancing, we’ve still got to stay in certain parameters, and we’ve worked out what that can be in the arena,” Tiley said in an interview with Channel Nine’s Wide World of Sports.
After going through an extremely tough winter, with Melbourne undergoing one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, the return of the ‘Happy Slam’ will bring a huge lift and some much-needed normality back to the sporting capital of the southern hemisphere.
“It’ll be the beginning of kind-of getting back to the way we were.“
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