The Australian Open may be eight months away and partitioned by a new year, but the organisers are already mindful of the possibility that it may not take place.
Craig Tiley, the Tennis Australia chief executive, told Australian Associated Press that the tournament, due to begin in January 2021, “will be compromised” as his team prepare a series of contingency plans amid the uncertainty of coronavirus.
The organisation is modelling and preparing for four possible scenarios in their contingency plans, which are said to include the possibility of playing the tournament behind closed doors. “Worst-case scenario is no AO,” Tiley said. “Our best-case scenario at this point is having an AO with players that we can get in here with quarantining techniques and Australian-only fans.”
Tiley’s comments reflect the grim reality for a global sport such as tennis at a time when international travel is restricted and many countries require new arrivals to self-quarantine upon landing. Even his best-case scenario presents a fundamental problem for the functioning of the sport, where players flit from city to city each week. Should the players arrive at the Australian Open, it remains to be seen whether they would be able to compete elsewhere.
The tennis season is listed to return in July before the US Open. But the US Open’s Arthur Ashe Stadium is configured as a temporary hospital for coronavirus patients in New York. While the US Open will make a definitive decision on its status in June, the Coupe Rogers, an important women’s warm-up tournament in Montreal, has been cancelled since mid-April. The French Open, now listed as the final grand slam tournament of the year, is due to begin at the end of September, just weeks after France’s ban of sporting events is due to be lifted.
The issues crossing borders and timezones means the discourse across tennis is starkly different to that of domestic sports across the world. While other sports debate the conditions and timing of their resumptions, tennis players have consistently stated they believe the season is already finished. During his successful win at the Virtual Madrid Open, Andy Murray made his priorities clear: “Let’s just try to get things back to normal first and then we can think about playing sport again.”
“I doubt it,” Rafael Nadal told El Pais when asked about the rest of the season. “I am more concerned about the Australian Open than about what will happen at the end of this year. I see 2020 pretty much as a lost year. I have the hope of starting again next year. Let’s hope it is so.”
As he waits, Nadal has followed developments closely and he offered a rare political critique to La Voz de Galicia that has caused a stir. “It is important that they get it right,” he said.
“There are things that cannot be reversed. There have been mistakes. Sorry, but this is fair to say, it is not a political issue … Everyone understands that politicians make mistakes. It is human. I make mistakes every day. What I like less is when mistakes are not recognised, because you no longer have credibility.”