Australian Open likely to be delayed, but only by a week or two

By Sports Desk November 24, 2020

The 2021 Australian Open is likely to be pushed back, but only for a week or two.

Uncertainty has surrounded the scheduled first grand slam of next year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Reports had suggested the Australian Open could start in March or April, instead of its scheduled January 18 beginning.

But Victorian minister for tourism, sport and major events Martin Pakula said on Wednesday a delay of a week or two was looking likely.

"I think that's most likely, but it's not the only option," he told reporters, via the ABC.

This year's Wimbledon was cancelled and the US Open was played behind closed doors, while the French Open was delayed before allowing a limited number of spectators.

Victoria on Wednesday recorded its 26th consecutive day without a new coronavirus case.

Pakula confirmed players would be tested and contained in a bubble during the Australian Open.

"It's fair to say that Tennis Australia and the playing group have been encouraged to keep the total number of people coming in, not necessarily to a minimum, but to a lower number than would otherwise be the case," he said.

"People need to bear in mind that there will be an extremely rigorous testing regime that will apply to the tennis players both before they leave the port that they're coming from and when they arrive, and I would imagine consistently during the time that they're in their bubble."

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  • Azarenka calls for greater understanding from players amid quarantine complaints Azarenka calls for greater understanding from players amid quarantine complaints

    Victoria Azarenka called for greater understanding from players stuck in hotel quarantine ahead of the Australian Open.

    After being exposed to coronavirus on flights, 72 players – including Azarenka – have been forced into a two-week quarantine ahead of the tournament beginning on February 8.

    Novak Djokovic reportedly made several requests, which were rejected, of officials for players in quarantine, while Roberto Bautista Agut compared the conditions to prison.

    But amid complaints on social media, two-time Australian Open champion Azarenka pleaded for players to be more understanding in a measured statement.

    "Dear players, coaches, entourage and Australian community. I would like to take a moment and address some of my colleagues as well as the media around the world," the Belarusian wrote on Twitter.

    "This has been a very difficult time for a lot of us that did not expect to end up in the situation we are in today, myself included. To be in a 14-day hard quarantine is very tough to accept in terms of all the work that everyone has been putting in during their off-season – to be prepared for playing our first grand slam of the year. I understand all the frustration and feeling of unfairness that has been coming and it is overwhelming.

    "We have a global pandemic, nobody has a clear playbook of how to operate at full capacity and without a glitch, we all have seen it last year. Sometimes things happen and we need to accept, adapt and keep moving.

    "I would like to ask all my colleagues for cooperation, understanding and empathy for the local community that has been going through a lot of very demanding restrictions that they did not choose, but were forced to follow.

    "I would like to ask to be sensitive as well to the people who have lost their jobs and loved ones during this horrible time for all of us around the world. I would like to ask all of us to have respect for people who work tirelessly to try to make our lives easier.

    "I would like to ask the media to please have consciousness on the impact and influence you bring to this situation and to the community. I would like for the people in the community to know and understand that we have it as our top priority to ensure the health [and] safety of all the people.

    "Lastly, I would like for us to please try to support each other as much as someone can or is willing to. Things are always easier when you have a compassionate environment and work together."

    Victoria endured tough restrictions after a second coronavirus wave last year.

    On Tuesday, the state recorded its 13th consecutive day of no locally acquired cases of COVID-19.

  • It's a complete disaster – Bautista Agut compares hotel quarantine to prison It's a complete disaster – Bautista Agut compares hotel quarantine to prison

    Roberto Bautista Agut labelled the quarantining of players ahead of the Australian Open a "complete disaster", comparing it to prison.

    After being exposed to coronavirus on flights to Australia, 72 players are in hotel quarantine for two weeks ahead of the tournament starting on February 8.

    Players have hit out at the conditions, although tournament director Craig Tiley insisted on Tuesday most were happy to be in Australia.

    But world number 13 Bautista Agut slammed the position players had been put in.

    Told he looked like he was in prison, the Spaniard told Sport5: "It's the same, it's the same, with Wi-Fi.

    "These people have no idea about tennis, about practice courts, has no idea about anything, so it's a complete disaster because of that, because the control of everything.

    "It's not Tennis Australia, it's the people from the government."

    Victoria on Tuesday recorded its 13th consecutive day of no locally acquired coronavirus cases, with three of the four in hotel quarantine linked to the Australian Open.

    Bautista Agut, a 2019 quarter-finalist at Melbourne Park, said two weeks in quarantine would be difficult.

    "I did work in the room but it's not the same," he said.

    "I was feeling very, very tight and I cannot imagine staying two weeks like this. It's really, really tough."

  • They were suggestions, not demands – Tiley defends Djokovic They were suggestions, not demands – Tiley defends Djokovic

    Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley defended Novak Djokovic, saying the world number one had provided "suggestions", not demands.

    With 72 players forced into quarantine for two weeks after being exposed to coronavirus on flights, Djokovic reportedly made demands regarding their conditions.

    Among them, the eight-time Australian Open champion reportedly asked for players to be moved to private houses with tennis courts, with his requests rejected.

    But Tiley played down the reports, saying Djokovic had simply made suggestions.

    "Novak wrote a note, these weren't demands, these were suggestions," he told Channel 9 on Tuesday.

    "But he too is understanding what two weeks of lockdown means."

    Tiley also backed the players despite reports and social media posts suggesting they were unhappy about being forced into quarantine.

    "Last night we spent quite a bit of time with the playing group going through a number of different items because they've just been here for a few days getting used to this quarantine environment," he said.

    "I have to say on that call there were about 500 players and the vast majority are happy to be here, pleased to be here and really getting ready in the next two weeks to be able to get out and play in the lead-in events and then play the Australian Open on February 8.

    "I think the reports we're reading and the things we're seeing doesn't represent the entire playing group. For the most part, they've been pretty good."

    With the preparations of 72 players so far impacted by quarantine, there have been suggestions the Australian Open be changed to a best-of-three sets format in the men's draw.

    But Tiley said he had no plans to make such a drastic change.

    "We're a grand slam at the end of the day and right now three out of five sets for the men and two out of three sets for the women is the position we plan on sticking to, starting February 8," he said.

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