SYDNEY • A bumper series of ATP and WTA Tour tournaments will be played in the lead-up to the Australian Open in January, organisers said yesterday, with the lucrative ATP Cup to take place in Sydney.
The season-opening schedule has been delayed repeatedly as organisers work out what can be played where as Australia gradually relaxes state and international borders after long Covid-19 lockdowns.
All lead-up events took place at Melbourne Park this year in bio-secure conditions after players were forced to quarantine in hotels for 14 days.
Sydney and Adelaide return to the calendar next year, but Brisbane, Perth and Hobart, which traditionally hold events, miss out for a second year, as does Auckland, New Zealand.
"It is not news to anyone that the pandemic, closed borders and varying rates of vaccination created a massive challenge for us," said Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley. "It's why we waited as long as possible to secure optimal conditions for the players and fans in as many locations as we could."
The men's ATP Cup team event, won earlier this year by a ruthless Russian team spearheaded by Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev, will kick off the season on Jan 1 in Sydney. It will be followed the week after by the Sydney Tennis Classic, a combined men's and women's ATP-WTA event.
Top-level tennis returns to Adelaide with a fortnight of combined men's and women's competition from Jan 2. There will also be action in Melbourne with three events - two WTA and one ATP - from Jan 3-9 ahead of the Australian Open, which starts on Jan 17.
On the inoculation mandate for all players at the Australian Open, Tiley claimed that 95 per cent of professional players would have received the jab by January but did not know if Novak Djokovic would be among that group. The world No. 1 has refused to divulge his vaccination status, which means he remains a doubt for the year's first Grand Slam.
But Tiley still believes the Serb will have a change of heart as he has the opportunity to make it a record 21 Slam titles, breaking him out a tie with "Big Three" rivals Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
"Novak has won nine Australian Opens, I'm sure he wants to get to 10," he said. "He's on 20 Grand Slam titles as is Rafa, who is coming, and Roger. One of them is going to surpass the other and I don't think Novak would want to leave that ... to someone else."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS