Australian Open moves to February in early shake-up to 2021 tennis schedule
Two-week quarantine to be followed by clutch of tour events in Melbourne
There have been hints and reports aplenty in recent weeks about the proposed dates and likely restrictions on participants for this year’s Australia Open, and just a week before Christmas, the ATP has published the opening scenario.
The men’s tour has released its schedule for the first couple of months of 2021, and it is dominated by events in Australia, where some of the strongest quarantine regulations have required lengthy negotiation between tennis’s professional bodies and the government.
Melbourne, Victoria is one of the few places to have successfully reduced Covid-19 infection rates, and the region’s authorities have therefore been hyper-cautious in how the first Major of 2021 should be run.
To allow for a full two weeks of quarantine by all players and their support teams, the start of the main draw has been postponed by three weeks, running from 8 to 21 February. The qualifying draws will be played in Doha a month earlier, and the successful players, along with all their main-draw colleagues, will then take chartered flights to Melbourne after providing a negative Covid-19 test, and begin quarantine by 16 January.
There will be some other playing opportunities before travelling to Australia in the week before Doha’s qualifying events. The ATP 250 in Delray Beach has been moved to 5 January from late February, alongside a new single-year ATP 250 licence for a hard-court 250 in Antalya, Turkey.
Once in Australia, the entire tour will be centred on Melbourne. The strictly controlled quarantine period, with players allowed just five hours a day on site with one team member, plus additional Covid-19 testing throughout the fortnight, will enable players to prepare for a clutch of tournaments in the first week of February before the ‘main event’.
The men’s tournaments will be spearheaded by a 12-team ATP Cup, reduced from the 24 teams that played in Brisbane, Perth and Sydney in its inaugural appearance last year. Two additional ATP250s include the relocated Adelaide International and a further 250 tournament—all played in Melbourne.
The women’s tour has yet to confirm its schedule, but a similar pattern seems likely given that the run-up to the Australian Open usually features tournaments in Brisbane, Auckland, Hobart and Adelaide.
There are, inevitably, some casualties as a result of the changes to the Australian swing. The ATP 250 in Auckland and the New York Open—usually held in mid-February—are cancelled, while Pune will be unable to host the Tata Open Maharashtra, also scheduled for February .
Meanwhile, the ATP500 in Rio, played on clay as part of the ‘golden swing’ in South America, is attempting to find another date later in the calendar.
Details for the weeks immediately following the Australian swing will be announced in due course, and will resolve the position of such key events as the 500s in Rotterdam—the culmination of what is currently a displaced indoor European swing in February—and the 500s in Dubai and Acapulco, which usually comprise the hot outdoor bridging events ahead of the first Masters tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami in March.
There is a lot of speculation that the biggest of these, Indian Wells, which was the first event to pull the plug when the global pandemic struck last March, will not go ahead in a California that still has soaring infection rates, though it may be postponed to later in the year. If that is confirmed, that indoor swing and the following 500s could be shunted later into the calendar.
The ATP will continue to assess opportunities for additional single-year licences during the first quarter of 2021, while the Challenger season will begin on 18 January, kicking off in Istanbul.
Still inked into the schedule, though, is the traditional clay season that runs through April, May and into the French Open.
2021 Australian Open timetable
Delray Beach Open [Delray Beach, Florida]
Antalya Open [Antalya, Turkey]
Australian Open qualifying [Doha, Qatar]
31 January-6 February
ATP Cup [Melbourne]