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2021 Australian Open Tennis Decision Promised “Soon”

Craig Tiley the CEO of Tennis Australia.

By Alix Ramsay

“Soon”. When, exactly, is “soon”? To a small child, it is any time in the next 30 seconds or there will be tantrums (and, by the way small people, there are only 24 more sleeps until Christmas so do try to stay calm). To the taxman issuing a final demand, it means now; to sensible grown-ups, it means sometime in the next few days while to the denizens of the nine circles of hell, it means anytime in the next few millennia (think Brexit negotiations and then some).

To tennis players, though, “soon” doesn’t mean much at all. More than a week ago, Tennis Australia announced that the plans for a Covid-secure Australian Open would be released “soon”. Discussions with the government of Victoria were continuing but the official view was that the issues over quarantine, practising during quarantine and a revised start date for the tournament were near to resolution.

Then, on Tuesday, Craig Tiley, the CEO of TA, made another announcement: a decision would be made “very soon”. Did this mean that negotiations were galloping towards the finish line? Well, not quite.

“Tennis Australia continues to work closely and productively with the Victorian Government and we are confident we will be in a position to finalise details for Australian Open 2021 very soon,” Tiley wrote.

“We are also in constant communication with the global tennis community, including the Tours, the players and their teams, as we consult with them on plans for the event and how players can safely practise and prepare for a grand slam tournament under the Victorian Government’s proposed quarantine conditions.”

In other words, they were still chewing over the same old problems: if the players have to sit in a hotel room for two weeks before playing a major event, a lot of them won’t go. But if they don’t do their two weeks of strict quarantine, the local government is worried that there will be another outbreak of the dreaded virus – and after recording 31 days without a new case of Covid-19 on Monday, Melbourne is right to be wary of an influx of international travellers bringing their germs to the city.

“Everything will require approval and agreement from the Victorian Government before it can be confirmed,” Tiley went on, giving no real clue as to how far the discussions have come.

Yet, if the government does not relent on its strict quarantine measures, it is hard to see how anyone will be able to compete, as John Millman told The Age last Friday. He is currently in quarantine having returned to Australia at the end of the season – and he knows that he is no state to fling himself into a grand slam event straight from his quarantine hotel room.

“You just can’t do a two-week hard lockdown to get ready for an Australian Open,” Millman said. “I don’t think any of the international players would do that. Your body is what pays the bills. You are an injury risk, you can’t go from zero to 100 right away, that’s the biggest risk.”

John Millman of Australia.

“If the government decides they just can’t take that risk, the tournament probably won’t go ahead. That’s how I see it. With a hard lockdown, I just don’t see how the players would buy into that after what they have been exposed to for much of the year and how tennis works if we had to go down that path.”

The Tennis Australia statement comes on the back of a memo issued by the ATP to its players last week. It, too, promised a finalised plan “very soon”. But, alarmingly, it also warned against making any travel plans for the moment and that the tournament’s start date could be pushed back one or two weeks. However, the memo did say that players would be allowed to practise during their quarantine period (pencilled in to start on January 8) but, as Tiley pointed out on Tuesday, nothing could be guaranteed until the government gave its approval.

All of which leaves us exactly where we were a couple of weeks ago. Except that we are now two weeks closer to the start of the tournament and flights to Australia are all but impossible to find – and what few seats are left are eye-wateringly expensive.

If Brexit has taught the world anything it is that government negotiations go on and on and on ad nauseam and usually achieve very little. Unfortunately, the travelling circus of the tennis tours need definite deadlines; players need proper schedules. All they have at the moment is the promise of something “soon”. Whether “soon” is “soon” enough to allow a proper Australian Open with a full field to go ahead, we can only wait to see.