Tennis Australia (TA) dismissed on Saturday media reports claiming the start of the Australian Open is set to be pushed back from January to February or March next year due to Covid-19 protocols in the country.
The Herald Sun newspaper reported the year’s first Grand Slam risked being deferred even as the organisers discuss quarantine arrangements with the Victoria state government.
“It’s pure speculation,” a TA spokesperson said.
“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.”
The report quoted Victoria premier Daniel Andrews as saying he was “very confident” of hosting the Grand Slam but the exact timing and arrangements “are not settled yet”.
The TA had planned for players and their entourages to arrive in Victoria in mid-December to have time to undertake a mandatory two-week quarantine period before competing in Melbourne in January.
‘Crowds at 10% capacity would be a boon’
World number one Novak Djokovic said he hopes fans will be allowed to turn up in numbers for the Australian Open in January even though spectators are still barred from most stadiums amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ever since the tour resumed after the Covid-19 stoppage, the majority of events have been played in empty stadiums, with a select few allowing fans in few numbers to attend with social distancing protocols in place to curb the spread of the virus.
“If Australia happens, I’m hearing that we are going to have at least 50% of the capacity of the stadium. That’s a lot, I think even 10% would be huge for us at this stage,” Djokovic said after moving into the semis of the ATP Finals in London.
“Just hearing the applause and hearing the fans and sensing their energy and their emotion and their kind of excitement for being there and cheering you on on the court, that’s something that I think we’re all missing.”
Rod Laver Arena is the biggest at Melbourne Park with a maximum capacity of 15,000 followed by Melbourne Arena (9,646) and Margaret Court Arena (7,500).
Defending champion Djokovic, who has won the Australian Open a record eight times, said he hoped the feeling of “walking into an empty stadium” would be temporary but was glad they were able to resume the season this year despite the pandemic.
“Strange is probably the right word to describe the season, but nevertheless I still feel like we played a lot of tournaments considering we had a six-months gap in the middle of the season,” he added.
“We still managed to play three out of four Grand Slams and the ATP Finals and some big Masters 1000 events like Cincinnati and Rome.”