Australian Open start date still 'not settled' amid Covid-19 confusion

A decision on the Australian Open can be expected within the next two weeks, after speculation that the tournament could be put back to February or even April dominated the penultimate day of the 2020 tennis season.

Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley on Sunday released a statement to say the organisation is “doing everything we can to finalise the summer of tennis as soon as possible”.

“Our intention is to deliver a summer in conditions that allow the players to prepare and perform at their best and the fans to enjoy their efforts – all in an environment that is safe for all concerned,” he said.

“We are working closely with the Victorian government on a plan that takes into account the needs of the players, fans, our partners and staff, and is of major benefit to the Victorian and Australian economies.

“We are continuing our urgent talks with local health authorities regarding quarantining and bio-security requirements and are confident we will have decisions soon.

“We look forward to announcing our ticket on-sale date as soon as all arrangements with the relevant authorities are finalised and we have more information on crowd sizes. We anticipate this on-sale date will be within the next two weeks,” he said.

The Victorian premier, Dan Andrews, said on Saturday he was confident Melbourne would host the traditional first grand slam of the season “in the early part of next year”, but the exact timing was still unknown.

Tiley and his team have been in detailed talks with Andrews and the Victorian department of health for several days, putting the players’ case that it would be impractical to ask them to remain quarantined for 14 days without practising for the Open, or playing in other tournaments.

Andrews has stated players would not be allowed to arrive before 1 January and might have to self-isolate for two weeks in designated hotels. That would mean the 24-team ATP Cup, which was scheduled start in three Australian cities on 4 January, would have to be drastically reduced in size and moved to Melbourne, where it would be held in a bio-secure bubble, postponed or cancelled.

Uncertainty over the plans has fed speculation that the first slam of the season could be moved back several weeks. The rumour started on Sydney Radio, with no sources named, and was amplified on Saturday by an international wire service report.

However, postponing the tournament – scheduled to start on 18 January – would pose serious logistical and negotiating challenges as it could disrupt the preparations of up to 40 ATP and WTA tournaments, as well as Davis and Fed Cup fixtures. Rearranging all of those would involve unprecedented compromise and co-operation between event organisers, sponsors, broadcasters, health authorities and players.

Australian Open organisers duly dismissed on Saturday suggestions the tournament would be pushed back to February or March as “pure speculation”. “Earlier in the week we … [said] how we continue to work closely with the Victorian government and we will update with more information as soon as possible, and there’s no update from that at the moment,” a spokesperson said.