Victorian Sports and Tourism Minister Martin Pakula concedes the 2021 Australian Open will “most likely” be delayed – but only by a week or two.
Mr Pakula said on Wednesday the delicate negotiations between governments and stakeholders about the tournament were close to a conclusion, after Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews earlier told Sunrise that the Open “will go ahead”.
But just not starting as scheduled on January 18.
“There’s a number of potential dates on the table. I’ve seen reports that suggest that it’s likely to be delayed by a week or two. I think that’s still most likely,” Mr Pakula said.
“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.
“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.”
On Sunday, Open tournament director and Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley said the final dates for the Melbourne Park grand slam should be confirmed within two weeks.
“We’ve got obviously a huge amount of complexity in negotiating with both Tennis Australia but also with the ATP and the WTA,” Mr Pakula said.
“Then there’s the conversations with the Department of Health and Human Services and Justice.
“It’s a very complicated set of conversations. I’m still confident we’ll have an Australian Open and we’ll have one in the early part of the year.”
Mr Pakula wouldn’t be drawn on discussing the players’ and their entourages’ quarantine arrangements amid speculation the process may be shortened to only 10 days. But he did say they would definitely be required to quarantine.
“The exact nature of that quarantine, whether or not it’s their own bubble, or something more common, is still part of those conversations,” he said.
“But I’m not going to conduct those conversations and negotiations in the public domain. They’re very intricate but I think we can be very close to a conclusion.
“You can speculate until the cows come home about exactly what quarantine requirements will be in place. It’s not particularly helpful.
“The quarantine requirements will be those that are ultimately agreed with the public health and then it will be a matter for the ATP and the WTA about whether or not they are acceptable.”
Quarantine arrangements ahead of the Australian Open have been controversial. Last week, 2020 winner and world No.1 Novak Djokovic urged the Victorian government to be accommodating of players arriving in Melbourne.
“I hope that there is going to be support and understanding from the Victorian and Australian government for the players and for Tennis Australia and that they will allow players to compete in the second week of quarantine,” he said at the ATP Finals.
“You will be able to have at least a tournament or two prior to the Australian Open, which for majority of the players is important.
“Having no official match before the Australian Open, before a grand slam, is a huge thing.”
US Open finalist Alex Zverev has also said players should at least be able to practice during quarantine.
Officials conducted 10,000 coronavirus tests before and during the successfully-staged US Open in New York in September. Frenchman Benoit Paire was the only player to return a positive to COVID-19.
“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,” Mr Pakula said.
“Then, I imagine, consistently through the time they’re in their bubble … there will be a number of differences in the amount of testing that they do and some of the rigor around that.”