Australian Open ‘most likely’ to be delayed, government minister says

By Benjamin Cooper, PA
·3-min read

The Australian Open will ‘most likely’ be delayed by at least a week, a government minister responsible for the tournament has said.

Martin Pakula, the state of Victoria’s sport and major events minister, told reporters he had seen reports the year’s first tennis major was “likely to be delayed by a week or two”.

“I think that’s still the most likely. But it’s not the only option. As you know, the French Open was delayed by many months and Wimbledon didn’t occur at all,” he said outside the Victorian Parliament.

“I still think it’s much more likely that it will be a shorter rather than longer delay. I don’t want to unduly repeat myself but these are very complex negotiations.”

It comes days after organisers said they hoped to finalise tournament dates “as soon as possible” amid speculation January’s event could be moved to February or March.

Current Covid-19 quarantine restrictions in Australia would make holding the first grand slam of 2021 in its planned January 18-31 slot logistically difficult.

At present, players would need to quarantine for two weeks on arrival in Australia while Victoria will reportedly not allow them to enter before January 1.

That would have a big impact on warm-up tournaments and players’ general ability to train and prepare.

Mr Pakula said: “The exact nature of that quarantine, whether or not it’s their own bubble, or something more common, is still part of those conversations.

“The quarantine requirements will be those that are ultimately agreed with the public health (authorities) and then it will be a matter for the ATP and the WTA about whether or not they are acceptable.”

“An extremely rigorous testing regime will apply to the players both before they leave the port that they come in from and when they arrive. And then I imagine consistently through the time they’re in their (biosecure) bubble.”

Hours earlier, Andy Murray said he believes tennis players should be compelled to have a coronavirus vaccination in order to play in tournaments.

World number one Novak Djokovic generated headlines earlier this year for anti-vaccination comments. He later said that he was not against vaccinations but did not like the idea of being forced to have one.

Murray said: “I guess it would be difficult. I also read a few weeks after he’d said he wouldn’t be keen on doing that, if it was something that had to be done for him to play the sport, he would.

“So I guess we’ll have to wait and see what the ATP and the ITF (International Tennis Federation) decide their position is going to be on that. But I’m confident that players would be into it if it meant the tour going back to normality.”

Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley said on Sunday his organisation was “doing everything we can to finalise the summer of tennis as soon as possible”.

“Our intention is to deliver a summer in conditions that allow the players to prepare and perform at their best and the fans to enjoy their efforts – all in an environment that is safe for all concerned,” he said.

“We are continuing our urgent talks with local health authorities regarding quarantining and bio-security requirements and are confident we will have decisions soon.

“Tennis Australia is acutely aware of the need for certainty, but also conscious of reaching a solution with the state government that ensures the safety of the entire community.”