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Tennis Boss Says Australian Open Is 'One Of The Safest Places To Be'

Crowds of 30,000 are expected to attend daily over the next two weeks.

For some countries around the world, having sports stadiums filled with tens of thousands of people during a pandemic is unfathomable at the moment.

However, that’s exactly what will be happening in Australia from February 8 to February 21, when over 100 international tennis players compete in the Australian Open.

Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley said on Monday that Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena, where the tournament is taking place, is “one of the safest places to be”.

Spectators wear face masks as they arrive on day one of the 2021 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on February 08, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia.
Spectators wear face masks as they arrive on day one of the 2021 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on February 08, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia.

“We want Melbournians to come to the tennis now. This is one of the safest places to be,” Tiley told Channel Nine reporter Tony Jones during a live television interview.

He said the tournament, which has brought more than 1,200 players and staff into Australia, is a “remarkable achievement for our sport and for Melbourne – that first time in really 12 months you have live sporting event for two weeks with international superstars with crowds”.

When asked about COVID-19 concerns, Tilley said Tennis Australia is “very close to the government contact tracing” and that “we will be in good shape”.

CEO Craig Tiley of Tennis Australia talks during a press conference on Thursday 4 February 2021.
CEO Craig Tiley of Tennis Australia talks during a press conference on Thursday 4 February 2021.

Crowds are capped at 30,000 fans per day, about 50% capacity, and spectators will have to wear masks in the showcourts if the roofs are closed. Digital tickets and the division of fans into three zones will make contact tracing easier if required.

However, it hasn’t been a smooth process in the lead up to the Australian Open.

The over 1,200 Australian Open players, coaches and other staff who flew into Australia were required to complete compulsory hotel quarantine, some tennis players even being in an extended hard lockdown after passengers tested positive on their flights.

The strict quarantine process is the same that’s been used for Australians returning home from overseas since March 2020. It requires passengers to spend two weeks in hotel rooms immediately after arrival at a cost of $3,000.

Serena Williams praised the system for international arrivals last month, calling it “insane” and “super intense” but necessary.

“It’s super, super strict but it’s really good,” the seven-time Australian Open singles champion told ‘The Late Show With Stephen Colbert’ via video link.

“Last I heard Australia had zero cases of COVID so that is – it’s unbelievable right? That’s the whole country. That is really amazing.”

Serena Williams of the US hits a return against Danielle Collins of the US during their Yara Valley Classic Women's singles tennis match in Melbourne on February 5, 2021.
Serena Williams of the US hits a return against Danielle Collins of the US during their Yara Valley Classic Women's singles tennis match in Melbourne on February 5, 2021.

While calling the strategy “insane” and “super intense”, Williams praised the rule as “super good” and backed the Australian government for doing things right.

“Because after that you can have a new normal like what we were used to this time last year in the United States,” she added.

Last week the Australian Open group that stayed at Melbourne’s quarantine hotel, Grand Hyatt, were instructed to get tested and isolate until they had a result after a worker at the hotel contracted the coronavirus.

At a press conference on Thursday, Tilley said tennis players won’t necessarily face additional testing if they received negative results by the end of that week.

“The current regime is that when you came out of 14 days of quarantine after being tested every day, the testing would only pick up if you showed any kind of symptoms,” he said.

There was one locally acquired case of COVID-19 reported in Victoria on Monday, a worker at a quarantine hotel not associated with the tennis.

Naomi Osaka of Japan plays a backhand in her Women's Singles first round match against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia during day one of the 2021 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on February 08, 2021.
Naomi Osaka of Japan plays a backhand in her Women's Singles first round match against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia during day one of the 2021 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on February 08, 2021.
Venus Williams of The United States of America plays a backhand in her Women's Singles first round match against Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium during day one of the 2021 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on February 08, 2021.
Venus Williams of The United States of America plays a backhand in her Women's Singles first round match against Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium during day one of the 2021 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on February 08, 2021.
Nick Kyrgios of Australia plays a backhand during a practice session ahead of the 2021 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on February 07, 2021 in Melbourne.
Nick Kyrgios of Australia plays a backhand during a practice session ahead of the 2021 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on February 07, 2021 in Melbourne.

With additional reporting by Carly Williams, and files from Reuters.

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