MELBOURNE (AFP) - The Australian Open has been pushed back to Feb 8 due to coronavirus issues, with a series of lead-up events announced by the ATP Tour in Melbourne after players complete 14 days of quarantine.
Thursday's (Dec 17) confirmation came after protracted negotiations with Tennis Australia and the Victorian state authorities in Melbourne, which only emerged from a months-long lockdown in October following a second wave of Covid-19 cases.
Originally due to start on Jan 18, players will now arrive in Australia from Jan 15 to serve two weeks of quarantine, many of them coming from countries when the pandemic is still raging.
Earlier reports said they would have to remain at designated hotels but would be allowed to practise and exercise for up to five hours a day, shuttled between their accommodation and Melbourne Park.
There was no immediate confirmation from Tennis Australia.
The ATP said men's qualifiers for the Grand Slam would be held from Jan 10-13 in Doha, before players and support staff travel to Australia.
There has yet to be confirmation on where the women will play their qualifiers.
A slimmed-down 12-team ATP Cup, the relocated Adelaide International, and a ATP 250 tournament will all be held in Melbourne ahead of the Slam, which is now scheduled from Feb 8-21.
"The reconfigured calendar for the start of the 2021 season represents a huge collaborative effort across tennis, under challenging circumstances," said ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi.
"Together with the support of our tournament and player members, partners, and Tennis Australia, we have been able to adapt and create an exciting start to the season.
"Health and safety will continue to be paramount as we navigate the challenges ahead, and I want to thank everyone involved for their commitment to finding solutions to launch our 2021 season."
Serb Novak Djokovic will be aiming for a ninth Australian Open title after overcoming Austria's Dominic Thiem in a titanic five-set battle earlier this year.
American Sofia Kenin is set to defend her maiden Grand Slam women's crown after defeating Spaniard Garbine Muguruza in three sets.
Australian Open boss Craig Tiley had been hoping that Melbourne Park crowds would be between 25 and 50 per cent of normal capacity. But with the coronavirus now under control in Australia, there are hopes that could be boosted if there are no more community transmissions of Covid-19.
The men's season will start with the ATP 250 Delray Beach Open alongside a new single-year ATP 250 event in Antalya, Turkey before moving to Doha for the Australian Open qualifying.
ATP events not taking place in 2021 due to the pandemic include the ASB Classic in Auckland and the New York Open, while the Maharashtra Open in India is under a cloud.
The Rio Open will not take place as originally scheduled, with the ATP saying alternative dates were being considered.