The ATP season will kick off simultaneously in Florida and Turkey in early January, while the WTA also confirmed its schedule for the first seven weeks of 2021, including an opening event in Abu Dhabi from January 5. That tournament will happen before the AO qualifying event.
Some Australian players currently on home shores may choose to head to the Middle East for qualifying as a way of securing a main draw spot. But those players – like any other tennis professionals coming to Melbourne for the Open – would be subject to two weeks of quarantine.
Given the recent COVID-19 outbreak in NSW, Australian Open chief executive Craig Tiley conceded that the tournament for Australians only may have to be played away from Sydney.
“We are hosting an Australian Closed Championships in Sydney after Christmas, obviously pending what happens with the current spread [of coronavirus] there,” Tiley said.
“The Australian Closed Championships would be an event where the winner is not guaranteed a wildcard but from that event the wildcard would be selected.
“We have to do it because players pretty soon will have to travel to the Middle East to play.”
Australia’s highest ranked men’s player, US Open quarter finalist Alex de Minaur, faces hotel quarantine in Melbourne like most other players.
Based in Europe, the 21-year-old world No.23 is on track to begin his season in Antalya, Turkey, from January 5 before taking his seat on a chartered plane heading for Melbourne in mid-January. De Minaur is also set to spearhead Australia’s assault on the ATP Cup teams tournament at Melbourne Park between February 1-5.
While Australian Open officials some weeks ago settled on a decision to postpone the junior events, they have revealed a full suite of events for Melbourne, including men’s doubles, women’s doubles, mixed doubles and wheelchair competitions.
TA have confirmed they are funding chartered planes and quarantine arrangements for up to 1100 tennis players and officials.
The ATP this week superseded Tennis Australia in revealing details about the opening weeks of its 2021 calendar, confirming that a shortened ATP Cup – a teams event jointly backed by the men’s tour and TA – would keep its place on the calendar. The event will feature 12 nations instead of last year’s 24 teams when Serbia was triumphant under Novak Djokovic.
The relocated Adelaide International event will also be played in Melbourne at the same time.
TA continue to work towards hosting crowds at 50 per cent capacity for Melbourne Park during the Open, which, in a significant departure from the status quo, will be played away from school holidays.
Players will compete for more than $80 million in prize money during their time in Australia, with the total prize pool for the Australian Open remaining at last year’s level of $71.5 million. First-round losers will take home $100,000, up by 15 per cent from this year.
TA said there have also been significant increases to prize money for qualifying and other early rounds, with the full details still to be revealed.
Scott Spits is a sports reporter for The Age