2021’s Australian Open is set to be held as normal (despite COVID-19 lasting effects) and will bring on the return of Roger Federer.
The 2020 season has been drastically changed by the worldwide effects of COVID-19. Wimbledon was canceled for the first time since World War II, the French Open was played in the freezing temperatures of October, and the US Open was as empty as a tour rookie’s trophy case. To top it all off, play was stopped for a grueling five months, which showed both how much we needed the sport in our lives and how creative some could be to fill that void.
Fast forward to today and not a ton has changed. Fans are either extremely limited or barred completely from attending tournaments. While the weekly schedule of tennis is back, players are traveling around Europe instead of competing in the sport’s Asian swing. the Race to London for the Nitto ATP Finals is on its way but will be a completely different atmosphere than ever before. As for the WTA, their year-end spectacle is gone completely.
Next year’s first big event, the Australian Open, is already feeling the effects of the virus and could implement similar methods in the last few months in order to maintain player safety. One of the biggest challenges being proposed is Melbourne’s quarantine rules for different countries. While some are relaxed enough to guarantee no quarantine, other high-risk areas (such as the United States, for example) would require at least a 14-day quarantine.
“It’s really about how the players are allowed to train and practice when they land because they don’t want to obviously sit in the hotel room for 14 days without being able to move and do any exercise and practice,” Martin Pakula (Victoria’s Sport, Tourism and Major Events minister) said recently.
A key workaround for Pakula and those involved with staging the year’s first Grand Slam event would be at the ATP Cup. The team event featuring 24 different countries traveled across Brisbane, Perth, and Sydney for their inaugural campaign at the beginning of 2020 and could be the key to allow players to quarantine without bleeding into their necessary practice time for the Australian Open. While he understands, in terms of fans, that the grounds will likely not be filled to full capacity, Pakula is aiming for however much he can allow in safely.
“We’ve got to work on travel bubbles, we’ve got to work on the issue of crowds,” Pakula continued.
A bright spot for the major championship will be the apparent return of 6-time Australian Open champion, Roger Federer.
“I’m on the right track,” he told Swiss media newsletter, Schweizer Illustriete. “But I don’t want to put pressure on myself and take my time. I will only enter tournaments when I am 100 percent fit. At the moment, it looks like I can come back at the Australian Open.”
It’s going to be an eventful start to the year when it comes around. Whether or not the ATP Cup is held will be a huge sign of how the Australian Open moves forward with play. The ATP has four more tournaments (not including this week’s two in Cologne and Antwerp) before their year-end event in London. The WTA has just one remaining for the entire season after this week (at November’s upper Austria Ladies Linz) due to the number of tournaments that were supposed to be held in China and Japan.