By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Tennis Australia will take "a fair few learnings" from the abandoned Adria Tour, a senior TA official told Reuters on Wednesday, after the exhibition series ended abruptly amid a slew of COVID-19 infections to players and staff.
World number one Novak Djokovic confirmed he had contracted COVID-19 on Tuesday, becoming the fourth player infected during the Balkan series, which featured heaving crowds and players partying without social distancing.
"There were a fair few learnings that have come out of that (Adria Tour)," TA's Chief Operating Officer Tom Larner said.
"And whilst, certainly the whole event was actually really well-intentioned in terms of raising money for charity, the execution was clearly not great, as were the processes in place."
The U.S. Open is the next Grand Slam on the calendar, to be held as scheduled from Aug. 31 in New York, with no crowds and under strict biosecurity protocols.
Australia, with 7,500 infections and 103 deaths, has been relatively successful in containing COVID-19 but fears of a second wave are growing with several clusters breaking out across Melbourne, the Australian Open's home city.
Professional tennis returns in Australia this weekend with the A$450,000 ($311,000) UTR Pro Series and TA are taking no chances. The series will be held at closed venues and players interaction will be limited, measures that could be in place at Melbourne Park in January if necessary.
"I think it will be great preparation for us and the playing group," Larner said of planning for the series.
"We obviously knew, as the government indicated, that there’s a risk of the virus flaring up again in Australia.
"We’ve been working with our chief medical officer Carolyn Broderick in the development of our biosecurity plan ... how we keep players safe and how we ensure there’s minimal cross-over or interaction."
Social restrictions have eased in Australia but Victoria has reimposed some after the COVID-19 spike in Melbourne.
Sports events in Victoria remain closed to the public but other states with lower infection rates are allowed to have crowds of up to 20,000 attend venues.
Larner said Australian Open organisers had no scenario planning which involved moving the Grand Slam or other warmup events to other parts of the country to reduce COVID-19 risks or give fans access to tennis.
He added that organisers were confident they could allow fans to safely attend the Australian Open even without COVID-19 being eradicated in Melbourne so long as their movement and spacing could be controlled effectively.
On the players' side TA have had positive feedback, Larner said.
"With some doubt around the back end of the season, we’ve had a lot of players talk to us about coming out to Australia early in December or even November to actually go through whatever quarantining is required at that point of time," he said.
"What we’ll see, hopefully, is actually really strong player fields leading into the Australian Open."
($1 = 1.4459 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford)