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Australian Open Tournament Director Craig Tiley.

By Alix Ramsay

It is 1.46am. Yours truly is sound asleep. The phone pings quietly. The blissful slumber is disrupted and, bleary eyed, the phone is checked. In the inbox is something headlined: “Australian Open Statement”.

Immediately, the pulse rate quickens and the swearing begins. Where are my glasses? Where is the light switch? Dammit, they were both here when I went to bed, where did they go…oh, here they are. Right. Glasses on. What is happening at the Aussie Open? Is it on? Is it delayed? Is it cancelled? And why is my foot wet? Ah, that’s where I left my glass of water. Dammit again.

And then, the announcement.

In 200 words or less, Craig Tiley, the CEO of Tennis Australia, screamed from the rooftops that he had absolutely nothing to tell us. Nix. Nada. Naff all. Yes, they were still working every hour of the day and night to resolve the problems of staging an international event in the middle of a global pandemic; yes, they were doing everything they could to placate the local government and get the official go ahead to stage the Open but, yes, he kind of knew that we all knew that last week. He would be back in touch as soon as he knew anything more.

As official announcements go, this one was a belter.

To be fair to Tiley – probably the players’ favourite tournament director on the planet – there was not a lot he could say. Yet he had to say something to stop the rumour mill from churning out more and more speculative headlines ranging from the Open being held in March to the Open being cancelled entirely.

“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.”

“Tennis Australia is doing everything we can to finalise the summer of tennis as soon as possible,” the statement read.

“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.

“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.

“Tennis Australia is acutely aware of the need for certainty, but also conscious of reaching a solution with the State Government that ensures the safety of the entire community.

“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.

“We can’t wait for the summer and look forward to bringing you more detail as soon as we possibly can.”

So, Tiley is confident of getting a decision soon but he shows no sign of confidence in what that decision will actually be. And given the way the Victoria premier, Daniel Andrews, suddenly decided last week that he didn’t want any players bringing their nasty germs into Melbourne until January 1 at the earliest, who knows which way the Victoria government is going to jump.

What we do know is that the junior tournament has already been cancelled. The aim is to hold it later in the year – no hint of any dates yet – and that is, perhaps, where the rumour about holding the whole grand slam in March or April came from. But fitting a junior tournament into the calendar at a time to be decided is one thing; rearranging a major event with all its broadcast deals, hospitality contracts, endorsements, sponsor packages, merchandising operations and ticket sales – and trying to shoehorn it into an already packed schedule – is entirely another.

The French Open only got away with delaying their event by four months because everything else was cancelled. When they first announced their new dates, the tennis world was outraged. And then, when the whole world realised that this lockdown business was going to go on for months rather than weeks, tennis relented. Something was better than nothing and if the Asia swing was to be wiped off the schedule due to Covid, another grand slam would fill the hole nicely.

Now, though, things are changing. As the new vaccines are being rolled out for mass inoculation programmes, there is every chance that life will be getting back to normal by springtime next year. Well, if not normal then slightly less abnormal than life is at the moment. Vaccines mean we can travel again, we can meet people again – and when we start to do that, the tennis tours can start to work properly again.

March is already jam packed with Indian Wells and Miami, February is full of events in South America and Europe while April is the start of the European clay court swing. Where, exactly, does anyone think there is room for the Australian Open in that line up? Even if it only pushed back by a week or two, a rescheduled Aussie Open will create chaos.

But if it is not pushed back and the players can only arrive two and half weeks before the event is due to begin, who will play? And, if Andrews is to be believed that he is not simply waiting for the results of an enquiry into the legality of the quarantine rules before he lets the players into Melbourne, who is to say he will not move his entry deadline again? If the rearranged Open started on February 1, he could easily say that the players were not allowed into Melbourne until January 14. That leaves exactly where we are now but just two weeks further down the road.

Apart from the international exposure, albeit exposure viewed from afar and peering through the walls of the bio-secure bubble, it is hard to see what the state of Victoria will get out of the Open next year. International travellers are not allowed into the country (those participating in, or working at, the tournament will need a special exemption from the government in order to get a visa) so that cuts out international tourism revenue. There is no decision yet on how many fans will be allowed to attend or, indeed, if any fans will be allowed in at all. So that cuts down (or, possibly, out) revenue there. Tiley has already predicted that the Open, if it goes ahead in a bio-bubble, will lose money so that limits tax revenue. What is in it for Andrews?

So, as the ATP Finals comes to an end on Sunday, no one knows when and where they will be playing again. They don’t know how much time they have for a holiday, how much time they have for their pre-season training or when they need to start packing for their next trip. They know as much as we do about what is going on. And it is not exactly reassuring that Craig Tiley is in the same boat as the rest of us.