Serena Williams and Roger Federer have confirmed that they will compete at the 2021 Australian Open, and the tournament hopes to host spectators who will make up 25-50% of the seating capacity at the tournament's three main arenas.
Craig Tiley, the Australian Open tournament director and CEO of Tennis Australia, the governing body of the sport Down Under, informed media outlets on Sunday of those commitments. He also provided a broad outline of TA's plans for the tournament euphemistically known as "the Happy Slam."
"We've been talking to them [top players] every week," Tiley said in a video conference. "Roger [Federer] confirmed he'll be here. Serena also will be here, obviously trying to get Margaret Court's [career Grand Slam singles titles] record."
Federer, who ended his season during the recent lockdown because of complications from knee surgery, has claimed the Australian Open title six times -- most recently in 2018. Williams, who lost in the semifinals of the 2020 US Open and withdrew from the ongoing French Open with an Achilles injury after winning one match, is a seven-time Australian Open champ.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic and national health regulations, the players will need to be in Australia earlier than they generally arrive in typical years. The Australian Open begins on Jan. 18, but there will be a two-week quarantine obligation. Those who wish to shake off the rust accumulated in the offseason by participating in one or two of a projected six weeks of tuneup events will probably need to be in Australia by mid-December.
"There'll be two weeks of quarantine that they'll do in cities around Australia," Tiley said. "We're creating a bubble(s) where they'll be able to be in it from the hotel to the courts, in a training environment, not dissimilar to what's happened with the AFL [Australian Football League] and the NRL [National Rugby League]. Then once they get out of those two weeks, by then we expect the [state] borders to be completely open."
Part of the strategy that has enabled Australia to avoid massive outbreaks of the coronavirus has been restricted travel between the six states of the continent nation. The tuneup tournaments for the main event in Melbourne, which is in the state of Victoria, customarily take place in various states and New Zealand.
Tournament organizers hope to accommodate up to 50% of the patrons who are able to attend matches in the three main, roofed stadium courts: Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne Arena and Margaret Court Arena. The combined capacity of those venues is 32,500. However, the attendance projections of TA are contingent on the roofs remaining open for health reasons, which include avoiding the use of air circulation and filtration systems.
"All arenas with retractable roofs will remain outdoor arenas," Tiley said, adding that the tournament site, Melbourne Park, is "a very outdoor site."
Covering over 98 acres, Melbourne Park currently has the largest footprint -- by far -- of any Grand Slam venue. Tiley said that gives organizers a lot more latitude in setting up a safe environment. He said he had been in regular communication with the US Open and the French Open, both played under special restrictions and protocols in 2020 due to the pandemic.
"We've been in touch with them a lot," Tiley said. 'We will certainly take away some of their successes and put them into [our event] in January."