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

Speculation that the Australian Open, scheduled to start on 18 January, could be put back to February or even April dominated the penultimate day of the 2020 tennis season. The Victorian Premier, Dan Andrews, told the host broadcaster, Channel 9: “I’m very confident we’ll have an Aussie Open in the early part of next year,” but added, “The exact timing of it, the exact arrangements we put in place, they’re not settled yet.”

Tennis Australia chief executive and tournament director Craig 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.

Tiley remains upbeat, according to sources, but has made no statement this week.

Meanwhile, the information vacuum 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 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.