The Open’s junior events have been postponed, with officials telling participants on Saturday that it had been pushed back due to travel restrictions because of coronavirus.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley and Australian Open juniors tournament director Francis Soyer announced the postponement in a letter to players, with Tennis Australia aiming to hold a replacement tournament in 2021.
“Australia has had relatively few cases of COVID-19 … and this has been achieved through strict biosecurity measures which include limiting international travellers into Australia, and mandatory 14-day quarantine for all international arrivals,” the letter read.
“These limits along with the increased biosecurity requirements have unfortunately made it extremely difficult for us to run a junior event at the 2021 Australian Open.”
Tennis Australia declined to comment on Saturday.
TA was thrown a curve ball this week when it was revealed the Victorian government would prevent any players arriving in Melbourne – and beginning a mandatory two-week period of quarantine – until the start of January.
With the tournament scheduled to begin on January 18, that timeline has raised doubts about players taking part in any lead-in events, such as the ATP Cup men’s teams event, which remain shrouded in uncertainty until the quarantine matter is resolved.
Australian doubles great Todd Woodbridge said on Saturday that moving the two-week event to another spot in the calendar remained possible.
“I don’t think that’s an outcome we would be wanting,” Woodbridge said on the ABC.
“But stranger things have happened in 2020, haven’t they? Roland Garros – being played in September instead of May, even in the golf world the [US] Masters recently just finished a week ago and of course that’s played in April normally.
“These are all things that at some point you would have said ‘no, that’s not possible’.
“[But] financially, to sustain these events, you can’t lose a year. There’s so much at stake.”
Woodbridge said, despite the great uncertainty, it was highly unlikely the Open – a mainstay of Melbourne’s major events strategy – could somehow be shifted to another city.
“I think that would be hard-pressed now given the timeframe to be honest with you,” Woodbridge said.
“The thing we have is that the size of the event in terms of the draws and so forth [and] the facilities required … Melbourne Park is the perfect place to be able to do that.
“The early part of next year, 2021 – all of the tennis calendars are looking shaky at this point.
“All of those discussions are ongoing too, between Tennis Australia, the men’s tour, the women’s tour and the International Tennis Federation about trying to work out what’s best.”
The manager of Alex de Minaur, one of Australia’s best players, has said there was a risk other players could boycott the tournament if preparations were not deemed to be up to scratch.
International sport has been thrown into turmoil since the coronavirus pandemic struck in March. Wimbledon was cancelled for the first time since 1945, while the US Open was held without spectators and Roland Garros shifted to September.
Wimbledon had the benefit of cancelling this year with pandemic insurance protection to draw upon but, as The Age revealed in July, Tennis Australia had previously taken out similar insurance coverage for the Australian Open but that policy was due to expire. Thus, they would not be able to draw on the policy for the 2021 event.
The Victorian government’s announcement this week that it would recommence receiving international travellers on December 7 has emerged as the main reason why the arrival of tennis stars to Melbourne was put back.
Tennis Australia had proposed for players to land in Melbourne as early as December 8 and exist in bio-secure “controlled bubble” environments in which movement is limited to travel between hotels and the practice court. Tiley has previously told The Age that costs for organising quarantine conditions this summer would exceed $30 million.
Central to TA’s negotiations with health officials has been the capacity for players to practice while undergoing quarantine. World No.1 Novak Djokovic this week called for “support and understanding” from Australian authorities while even advocating for players to be allowed to compete in the second week of quarantine.
Scott Spits is a sports reporter for The Age
Anthony is a sports reporter at The Age.