Sport Tennis Australian Open Attendance of up to 30,000 a day approved for Australian Open
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Attendance of up to 30,000 a day approved for Australian Open

Big crowds are back for the Australian Open. Photo: AAP
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Victoria’s Chief Health Officer has given approval for between 25,000 to 30,000 people a day to attend the Australian Open in Melbourne next month.

Minister for Sport Martin Pakula today announced that the event’s COVID-safe plan would allow a daily crowd capacity of 30,000 for first eight days of the tournament and then 25,000 per day from the start of the quarter-finals — about half the average attendance in recent years.

The state government said “rigorous” infection control and prevention measures would be enforced.

Nearly 1,000 Australian Open players and officials have undertaken hotel quarantine over the past fortnight, with the last to be released on Sunday.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton approved the numbers for the tournament which starts on February 8.

Around 973 Australian Open players and officials have undertaken hotel quarantine in Victoria ahead of the tennis tournament.

The one new case of COVID-19 in Victoria announced on Saturday is not connected to the Australian Open.

Mr Pakula said during the finals, there would be crowds of 12,500 during the day session and 12,500 during the night sessions.

“Over the 14 days, it means we will have up to 390,000 people here at Melbourne Park, about 50 per cent of the average over the past few years,” he said.

“Rod Laver Arena will have incredible atmosphere, not that different to the atmosphere we’ve seen at all the Opens in the years past.

“It will not be the same … but it will be the most significant international event with crowds that the world has seen in many, many months.”

Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley said it would “set an example” to the rest of the world and solidify Melbourne’s place as the international sporting capital.

Tiley insists the tournament will be fair for all players despite differing preparations for the year’s first major.

Melbourne Park was buzzing on Saturday with all but 22 players out of hotel quarantine and readying themselves for the lead-in tournaments which get underway on Sunday.

The last batch, including Japanese star Kei Nishikori and French world No.28 Benoit Paire, can exit the hotels at 11.59 on Saturday night.

Two WTA tournaments kick off official proceedings on Sunday although Australia’s world No.1 Ash Barty has a first-round bye.

Ajla Tomljanovic, ranked world No.69, takes on French No.53 Alize Cornet in round one with a second-round meeting with Naomi Osaka beckoning.

Eight other Australian women were given wildcards into the tournaments.

Tiley said the players who were in hard lockdown had been given “priority” with their schedules and access to training facilities.

He said with all players having at least nine days between quarantine and the start of the Open on February 8, the tournament would be as fair as it could be.

“There have been a lot of questions about a fair playing field – some players have had to quarantine, some have not,” Tiley said on Saturday.

“We’ve given nine days when coming out of quarantine to when they’ll really need to be playing.

“It’s not going to be perfectly ideal, but it’s enough time to be as ready as you possibly can be.

“No different to inclement weather or someone being a bit sick and having to take a few days off.”

Meanwhile, Barty isn’t letting defeat in her comeback exhibition match dampen her enthusiasm as she travels to Melbourne ahead of the Australian Open.

Romania’s world No.2 Simona Halep downed Barty 3-6 6-1 and then 10-8 in a super tiebreaker at Adelaide’s Memorial Drive on Friday night.

But Australia’s world No.1 couldn’t wipe a smile from her face despite the loss in her first competitive match in 11 months.

“It’s absolutely fantastic to be back, I genuinely missed it so much,” Barty said.

“I have been getting a little bit impatient the last two or three months, getting ready to play.

“And I’m so excited to get started next week. It was the perfect preparation.

“Obviously, I have trained over the last few months but nothing can replicate what we just did.”

Barty will make her official return at a WTA Tour 500 event at Melbourne Park next week, before the Australian Open starts.

The Queenslander was unfazed at her renowned all-court skills being patchy against Halep.

“A little bit of execution, of course, that we would like to get right,” she said.

“But I just enjoyed it so much. I think that is the most important thing … I’m excited to get started.

“If it’s not good next week, it might be the week after.

“And if it’s not the next week after, I get another opportunity eventually.

“So just keep chipping away, trying to be the best that I can every day.

“But it’s bloody good to be back.”

-with AAP