Melbourne: Tennis Australia flagged plans Monday to move numerous Australian Open warm-up events to Victoria, but received a blunt warning from the state premier that he would scupper any event that risked reigniting Melbourne’s COVID-19 crisis.
Under the plan, tournaments originally planned for Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Hobart, Adelaide and Canberra would all be played in Victoria before the Open at Melbourne Park from 18-31 January.
Tournament director Craig Tiley said the move was because COVID-19 restrictions meant that state governments could not guarantee overseas players contesting warm-ups outside Victoria would be free to travel to Melbourne for the Grand Slam.
“There is now no risk of the Australian Open going ahead without everyone (all players) in Victoria, and we didn’t have that guarantee previously,” he told Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper.
Tournament officials in Brisbane, Adelaide and Hobart all issued statements expressing disappointment at losing their events to Victoria and saying they would return in 2022.
But Victoria Premier Dan Andrews said the plans were “not a done deal”, particularly since Melbourne only recently emerged from a month-long lockdown to eliminate a second wave of Covid-19.
“It’s a massive event, it’s an event that all of us love, but it comes at a time when the rest of the world is on fire,” he told reporters.
“It’s an important event, absolutely, but avoiding a third wave is arguably even more important. This needs to be done on the best of public health advice.”
The plan would reportedly involve more than 500 international tennis players arriving in Victoria and undergoing two weeks of mandatory quarantine.
The players, many of whom travel with large entourages, would be restricted to hotels but have access to tennis courts.
Once they have completed quarantine and twice tested negative to COVID-19, they would be able to move freely around Victoria.
Andrews noted that it was a massive logistical undertaking involving complex quarantine arrangements, saying “the notion this is all tied up with a bow, it’s a done deal, that’s simply wrong”.
Tennis Australia seemingly jumped the gun with its announcement, with Tiley confidently predicting the Victoria state government to allow crowds of at least 25 percent capacity at Melbourne Park.
Adelaide International director Alistair MacDonald said the decision to move events to Victoria followed “months of extensive discussions with governments across the country”.
Hobart International organisers said Covid-19 restrictions made it impossible for players to prepare properly, while Brisbane tournament officials said “a Melbourne-only summer of tennis is the safest and most feasible option”.