Bio-secure bubbles to be set up for Australian Open 2021
Tournament director confident Grand Slam will take place with fans in stands
The 2021 Australian Open could be moved to later in the year due to Covid-19, but tournament director Craig Tiley told Reuters that organisers are confident of hosting the Grand Slam in its usual January slot with full prize money and fans in the stands.
Melbourne is in the midst of a full lockdown after a second spike in Covid-19 cases, but Tiley and his team have been working since shortly after the 2020 edition finished to draw up strategies to ensure next year's tournament goes ahead.
Ticket sales will start in October and five "bio-secure bubbles" will be opened across the country six weeks before the tournament begins, to allow players arriving in Australia to avoid the most restrictive quarantine measures, Tiley said.
"We're going to open our bio bubble from the first of December and players can come at any time," Tennis Australia's (TA) chief executive added in a video call.
"When the players arrive, our expectation is they're not going to be in a hotel for 14 days like the current requirements are. We'll have an exemption within this bio-secure bubble.
"We've said every year that we're the 'happy slam'. But now we're saying we're the 'very safe and happy slam'."
TA's crisis management team, set up because of the bushfire smoke that threatened this year's tournament, has put a business and operational plan in place for each of the scenarios they came up with.
The first scenario was the event being held in much the same way as 2020, while the second was a tournament with limited crowds, said Tiley.
"Scenario three was behind closed doors, a broadcast-only event. Scenario four was moving to another time of the year," he added. "And scenario five is no event at all."
Tiley was confident of being able to welcome some 400,000 fans to Melbourne Park in 2021, about half the number that attended this year's tournament.
He added they would consult with the main Tours if they were forced to reschedule, not act unilaterally as the organisers of the French Open did when they moved their event from May to the end of next month.
Tiley said organisers had employed a "global expert" to help set up the bio-security bubbles and testing facilities in Perth, Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne, which will allow players to acclimatise and train for the Grand Slam.
He said: "I'm optimistic and positive that we'll have an event and it'll be in Melbourne. It will have some crowds and it'll be the beginning of kind of getting back to the way we were." - REUTERS