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Australian Open Tennis in doubt, Djokovic does a U-turn…oh, and Zverev wins in London ATP

Alexander Zverev after winning his group stage match against Diego Schwartzman.

By Alix Ramsay

The fate of the Australian Open 2021 is in doubt after the government of Victoria announced that they would not grant entry to the visiting players until the start of January.

Initially, Tennis Australia had been working on a plan to bring the players to Melbourne in mid-December. That would give them time to go through the mandatory two-week quarantine period before play could begin at the start of the new year. The hope was to hold all the scheduled events prior to the Open in Melbourne to avoid any potential quarantine issues between the six states and TA sounded optimistic, if not bullish, about putting on a good summer of tennis.

But the premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews, has put a serious dent in that optimism with the announcement of the new travel ban. Not that Andrews thinks of it as a “ban” exactly.

Daniel Andrews announces new travel ban.

“I wouldn’t put it in terms that it’s a ban,” Daniels said. “As far as visas, that’s a matter for the Commonwealth.

“Whether [the players] need to be here in December is the other issue. I don’t know if that necessarily means there isn’t an Australian Open.

“It has to be done safely; it has to be done properly. We are working very, very closely with Tennis Australia. They are working [with] all of their partners and we’re confident that we’ll finish up with an Australian Open.”

That confidence seems misplaced, however, as the severity of the new travel restrictions makes the practicalities of running the tournament sound all but impossible.

Part of TA’s proposal was to bring the players into the Open “bubble” as soon as they landed. That would have allowed them to practice and prepare during their quarantine period rather than sit in a hotel room for 14 days until they were deemed to be virus-free. But Daniels said days ago that none of TA’s proposals were a done deal.

So, if the players are not allowed into Australia until January 1 and if they must go through standard quarantine, that would allow them just four days in the open air before the start of the first grand slam of the year. Little time to practice, no competitive play and yet a major trophy to play for.

“If we can’t even practice for 14 days and we have to go out to play the Australian Open, it’s a lottery,” Alexander Zverev said. “I mean, you can basically flip a coin who wins.”

“If we can’t even practice for 14 days and we have to go out to play the Australian Open, it’s a lottery,”

new restrictions are hard enough for the multimillionaires at the top of the rankings but for the journeymen lower down the pecking order, the trip Down Under has suddenly become a huge financial gamble.

At the moment, flights from London to Melbourne are listed at around £1,800 (or $2,370) for an economy ticket – and that is only the starting price. Then there is the cost of the quarantine: around $2,200 for the fortnight. So, before our journeyman friend has unpacked his rackets, he will have shelled out more than $4.5k. If he has a coach with him, you can double that. And that is before the Open has started; if our friend loses in the first round, he has lost a small fortune – and several weeks of his life – for nothing.

It is thought that the January 1 travel restrictions are due to an enquiry by the Victorian government into the legalities of the quarantine rules. The enquiry is due to publish its findings at the end of December so, until then, the authorities do not want hundreds of players turning up on their doorstep and being forced into isolation before the rules have approved by an independent overseer. Unsurprisingly, Andrews denies that this is the case.

One possible solution would be to delay the start of the Open by a week or so to give the players a chance to prepare properly and, maybe, squeeze in a warm-up tournament. The only problem with that is that the calendar is rammed solid with tournaments from the moment the Open is supposed to end. And those events may have something to say to their lawyers if the Tennis Australia keeps everyone in Melbourne while their tournaments are supposed to be starting.

For the moment, then, the players – along with the ATP and WTA – are in limbo. Under the original plans, they would have been heading out to Australia in about three and a half weeks (leaving little time for pre-season training). Under the new rules, they may not be going at all.

And keeping with the theme of politics – Novak Djokovic and Vasek Pospisil have performed a remarkable U-turn by putting themselves forward to stand for the ATP Player Council. That is the same Djokovic and Pospisil who left the council on the eve of the US Open to form their own body, the Professional Tennis Players’ Association.

Novak Djokovic and Vasek Pospisil put themselves forward to stand for the ATP Player Council.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the recruitment drive for the new organisation has been largely unsuccessful so the two men are going back to their starting point. If you can’t beat them, re-join them.

And finally, Alexander Zverev kept his hopes alive at the ATP Finals by beating Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 4-6, 6-3. At times he was very good, at times he was abject (his demeanour in the second set when, from 3-1 up, he lost five of the next six games was that of a man walking to the gallows) but he got the job done in the end. And for all the inevitable double faults, his serve – when it went in – was devastating. At one point, his average first serve speed was nudging 136mph. Now all he has to do is beat Djokovic to give himself a chance of reaching the semi-finals. Good luck with that, Sascha.