Australian Open organisers are considering holding the tournament without fans and could force players into repeated quarantines after a positive case of Covid-19 at the players’ hotel forced 600 people into isolation.
Tournament directors say they are confident of starting the Open on Monday despite warm-up matches being cancelled on Thursday after an employee at one of the hotels used for the two weeks of quarantine tested positive on Wednesday.
The 26-year-old man last worked at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Melbourne on January 29 and anyone who had stayed there is considered a casual contact.
Nearly 600 players and support staff are having to isolate until they receive a negative test but all the matches scheduled for Thursday have been moved to Friday, where forecast rain presents another headache.
It had been announced earlier that up to 30,000 fans a day could be admitted to the Open, half the usual attendance.
But plans are now being drawn up to ban the spectators if Victoria imposes a third state lockdown.
Australian Open organisers remain confident of starting the tournament on Monday after warm-up matches were cancelled following a confirmed case of Covid-19
Players who stayed at the hotel where the employee worked are having to remain in quarantine until they provide a negative test
Organisers have also conceded players may have to quarantine during the tournament, with director Craig Tilley saying: ‘If we have to go through this again, we’ll go through this again.’
He told a press conference on Thursday: ‘This does give us three days for the lead-in events to complete.
‘Obviously tomorrow we’ve got some challenging weather, so we’ve got to work around that as well, and the intention is to start the Australian Open on Monday.
‘We’re absolutely confident the Australian Open’s going to go ahead. We know we’ve got a period now we’ve got to work through with those players and their staff that needed tests. The probability is very low that there’s going to be any issue, we fully expect them all to test negative.
No matches in the six warm-up events held at Melbourne Park were played on Thursday after an employee at one of the hotels used for the two weeks of quarantine tested positive on Wednesday
‘If we have to go through this again, we’ll go through this again. We’ve got another three and a half weeks of tennis and fully expect to keep to the original schedule once we get past today.’
Tiley and his team have spent months negotiating arrangements to allow the tournament to happen, including funding charter flights and quarantine hotels for players and their support teams, and he added: ‘We want this to happen and we’ll do whatever to make it happen.’
There were plenty of complaints from players regarding the two weeks of quarantine, especially after it emerged that 72 would have to spend the entire period in their rooms following positive tests for people on three of the flights.
Tournament director Craig Tiley has admitted players may have to go back into quarantine during the Open
Tiley insisted there were no grumblings this time, though, saying: ‘The players have been remarkable. When we made the calls last night they completely accepted it. They’ve all gone and got tested. They’ve been really good and very appreciative of the opportunity to play.’
It is not known how the man who tested positive caught the virus, and this incident, which has meant restrictions have been reinstated for all Melburnians, will add fuel to the fire of those who believe the tournament should not have taken place.
Tiley said: ‘We’ve all been through a tough time for the past year and we would not have made this decision to go ahead without the full endorsement and support of the Victorian Government.
‘There’s no such thing as no risk, there’s always going to be risk and the objective is to minimise that as best as possible.’
Heather Watson waits in line to receive a Covid-19 test as the confirmed case threw plans into disarray
The draw, which had been scheduled for 7am GMT on Thursday, has been pushed back to the early hours of Friday.
Friday’s schedule for the warm-up events was announced just before 9pm Melbourne time, with a number of players, including Nick Kyrgios and Britain’s Dan Evans, facing the prospect of playing two matches in a day.
Matches in the three WTA Tour tournaments have been shortened, with a first-to-10-points tie-break replacing a third set, but ATP Tour events will continue as normal.
Eight matches have been scheduled for Margaret Court Arena, one of the stadiums with a roof, while organisers have the option of using indoor practice courts to complete matches should the weather prevent outdoor play.