Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley has spoken in detail about the audacious plan to host the 2021 grand slam in Melbourne in January as planned, with crowds and full prize money for players.
While Victoria experiences an alarming spike in COVID-19 cases and a complete lockdown as the state tries to end a spate of outbreaks, Tiley has not flinched in his confidence that the tennis tournament can go ahead with a ‘bio-secure bubble’ system in the lead-up.
Tiley said five bubbles will be opened around the country in the six weeks immediately before the start of the 2021 Australian Open, allowing players to get Down Under and bypass the nation’s quarantine measures. After consultation with a “global expert” they reportedly plan to set up the bubbles and testing facilities in Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane, Sydney, and Adelaide.
“We’re going to open our bio-bubble from the first of December and players can come at any time,” Tiley told Reuters.
“When the players arrive, our expectation is they’re not going to be in a hotel for 14 days like the current requirements are. We’ll have an exemption within this bio-secure bubble.
“We’ve said every year that we’re the ‘happy slam’. But now we’re saying we’re the ‘very safe and happy slam’.”
Ticket sales for the grand slam are set to open in October and Tiley is hopeful for 400,000 fans for 2021, which is half as many as last year.
Tennis Australia set up a “crisis management team” after Australia’s atrocious bushfires last summer threatened the 2020 tournament and that team has been at the centre of planning for the 2021 event amidst the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic.
Tiley explained that the team has considered a number of options to deal with potential scenarios come January.
One scenario was for the event to be hosted in the same fashion as the 2020 tournament. The second scenario would see limited crowds.
“Scenario three was behind closed doors, a broadcast-only event. Scenario four was moving to another time of the year,” Tiled said.
“And scenario five is no event at all.
“We’ve established a strategy and an operational plan for all our fans and how they will be positioned around the site.”
Tiley confirmed that the $71 million prize money purse would remain for the 2021 Australian Open, but conceded that a “double-digit percentage” revenue loss is predicted.
TA said they will also speak with other main tennis tours if their plans were hampered and they needed to reschedule – possibly to March-April or September-October – and that cash reserves of $80 million would be of assistance if the event was cancelled all together.
Still, Tiley is very “optimistic and positive”.
“I’m optimistic and positive that we’ll have an event and it’ll be in Melbourne,” Tiley said.
“It will have some crowds and it’ll be the beginning of kind of getting back to the way we were.”