The extension of Australia’s main tour event to mid-February is under strong consideration as tennis continues to grapple with its impact Corona virus crisis.
Tennis Australia is poised for more tournaments after next season’s opening Grand Slam if requested by ATP and WTA Tours, who remain unsure whether their normal schedule will be viable in the first half of next year.
The world’s leading players usually leave for events in North and South America, or indoors in Europe, after they finish at Australian Open in Melbourne.
World leading players, such as Novak Djokovic, can extend his season in Australia
But some have had doubts and, in an extensive interview with Sportsmail, influential Tennis Australia Chief Executive Craig Tiley revealed that they are ready to extend the Down Under season if the tournament cannot be held elsewhere.
During a prudent assessment of prospects for the medium term, he added that planning was already in place for normality not to return to the Australian Open for at least another two years.
This could mean, this time, 2021 will start with a lot of events in Melbourne, if the complex quarantine issues cannot be resolved across the great southern Continent.
“We talked about the possibility of having some events after the Australian Open,” said Tiley. ‘This is an open conversation now with the tour. I am of the view that we will still be significantly challenged by freedom of travel and the lockdowns in February and March next year.
“ It’s about how it affects the rest of the tour and whether the tour and the players want it. If they do, we will cheer them on. It’s on the table and they’re looking at it. They see what happens next season.
Players like Rafael Nadal will arrive in December to be quarantined before playing in January
“We want to maximize playing opportunities and ideally we want everyone to play at least one event plus the Australian Open, but can be more.”
Time is running out for regular programs across Australia in January to be sorted. Answers are needed next week as players will have to arrive in mid-December if they want to be free to play from January 1 after a two-week quarantine, in which case they can use the training facility in a bubble.
The biggest challenge for those organizing them is negotiating with different jurisdictions under the state federal system of government.
“Currently, the state border is not opened, it has been closed for more than six months,” said Tiley. “ We need assurance that for example, if you are playing in Brisbane and suddenly 100 new cases show up, are you going to need a new two-week quarantine coming from there to Melbourne?
“We said from the start that if the quarantine plan is approved statewide then we can play all over the city, otherwise we have to contract everything to Melbourne, because that’s where everyone has to be at the end of January.”
The ATP Cup team event, which features 24 nations in January, might not be able to happen if all of them are centered in Melbourne, and if they do it might drop to just eight nations. Instead, there may be a series of major touring level events taking place across the 31 courses available in Melbourne Park.
This is what can be extended by adding a further main tour event to mid-February should the Corona crisis rule out subsequent stops in America and Europe.
“Our biggest advantage is that once the quarantine is complete, players will be able to move around freely,” said Tiley. ‘You can go to a restaurant, to the cinema, you can do what you want. But first of all our priority is to protect safety.
Craig Tiley, Chief Executive of Tennis Australia, spoke about the challenges that exist today
Tennis continues to tackle the coronavirus crisis and work on contingency plans
“The difference between us and the US Open is that the virus was on a break then at the end of the first wave, while now we will have players coming from the hotspot. On average, there will be positive cases that come, so they must be handled first. ‘
Having managed the Australian Open’s ongoing ascent to at least three other Grand Slams, as well as helping launch the Laver Cup, Tiley is seen as the most influential administrator in world tennis.
While optimistic about the game, his harsh views on the professional side in the short to medium term carry weight.
“I am of the view that the current adjustments will take longer than we thought,” he said. “ We’ve talked about a different (Australian Open) scenario for 2022, because we don’t think we’ll repeat 2020 (the ‘normal’ Grand Slam event that takes place in January) until at least 2023 or 2024.
‘That’s how we manage our risk and our cash flow. Professionally, we have to be realistic and manage players’ expectations of money and opportunities, and ensure that the event can be sustainable for the future.
‘The reality is the money that will be available will be compromised significantly. I think the stronger events will last, and those who carry heavy financial burdens will not. It is unrealistic to think that it will not change. Even if you get the vaccine in March, it will still be a challenge for the next half of the year.
“One thing I don’t want to happen is someone got sick from tennis and then lost his life. I don’t think it happens in sports but if it did it would change the dynamic for everyone. Then you talk about a completely different level of risk and perception.
“ I’m still very optimistic about the sport of tennis and in some ways this is a great opportunity, it’s a prize for our sport. This is a sport that can be played safely and in Australia we have seen 160-170% growth in online bookings, every club is seeing growth in participation, which will be great for the future. ‘