The 2022 Australian Open is just over three months away and already attention has turned to the Covid-19 regulations that are going to be in place at the tournament.
Earlier this year in Melbourne players were placed in strict hotel quarantine due to the pandemic, with limited training time and some not allowed out until close to the start of the Grand Slam. The rules may be loosened a little in January, but players are likely to be in bio-secure bubbles, may need to travel to Australia over Christmas, and there are reports that it could be mandatory to be vaccinated to compete.
Ahead of the opening Grand Slam of 2022 we look at what’s in store and what it could mean for the likes of Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and more…
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What’s the situation in Melbourne?
This week Melbourne passed 246 days in lockdown and overtook Buenos Aires as the city that has spent the most cumulative time in lockdown. But restrictions will reportedly be lifted once the vaccination rate in the state of Victoria gets to 70 per cent, which is expected to be later this month. There were protests in September over the lockdown.
When will players have to travel to Australia?
There won’t be much celebrating over Christmas for most players who are planning to compete at the Australian Open.
Like this year, qualifying is set to take place in the Middle East, with the women’s event in Dubai and the men’s qualifying in Abu Dhabi. The final round of qualifying is scheduled to take place around Christmas Eve.
For those who don’t have to qualify there will still be travel over the Christmas period due to the quarantine regulations on arrival. The Australian Open starts on January 17 and there will likely be warm-up tournaments in the fortnight leading up to it.
Current Australian rules state that all international travellers entering the country need to undertake a mandatory 14-day quarantine at a designated facility.
US Open champion Emma Raducanu has said that she has no problems with travel over the festive period. “Whatever needs to be done to be able to play the Australian Open, I’ll do. To me it’s not even a thought or like a battle in my mind. I just want to be at the Australian Open, and I want to compete there, so, whatever it takes to do, I’ll go.”
What rules will be in place?
It is expected that rather than being placed in hotel quarantine as they were this year, players will be in bio-secure bubbles, which will allow them slightly more freedom. The regulations at the 2021 Australian Open frustrated some players as they were unable to train as much as they wanted and had to spend most of their time in their hotel room. There were concerns that two weeks of inactivity followed by matches could cause injuries, and Djokovic wrote to Australian Open officials to see if the rules could be eased – a move that wasn’t successful and saw Nick Kyrgios brand him a “tool”.
Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley said in August that the planned bubble for 2022 would allow players "to move freely between the hotel and courts".
They're protected, they're kept safe among themselves and safe from the community as well. And after those two weeks they'll come out and be able to compete in the Australian Open in front of crowds.
It is not yet clear how many fans will be able to attend each day at Melbourne Park, with attendances at the 2021 Australian Open capped. There were also several days without any fans as Victoria went into a five-day lockdown.
Will players need to be vaccinated to play?
It has been reported in Australia that players will need to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 to compete at the Australian Open and there will be no exceptions made.
Daniel Andrews, the head government official in the state of Victoria, said recently: “The only title that will protect you is you being able to have had your first dose and second dose. If you are coming to visit, the notion of you getting in here without being vaccinated, I think, is very, very low.”
The decision could have an impact on Djokovic’s chances of winning a 21st Grand Slam in Melbourne.
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The Australian Open has been his most successful major but he has been sceptical about the vaccine in the past and has said he doesn’t think it should be a requirement to play on the tour. He has not revealed if he has had a first vaccine dose yet.
Djokovic is not the only one whose plans could be impacted.
At the US Open this summer an ATP spokesman said that just above 50 per cent of male players were vaccinated, even though the men’s tour “continues to strongly recommend vaccination to players.” A WTA spokeswoman said nearly half of female players were vaccinated and they hoped to get that number above 85 per cent by the end of the year.
World No 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas said in August that he didn’t plan on getting the vaccine until it was mandatory to play on tour – but then made a U-turn on that decision after getting criticism from the Greek government. Women’s world No 2 Aryna Sabalenka said she didn’t “trust” the vaccine earlier this year, but has been ruled out of Indian Wells after testing positive. Andrey Rublev and Elina Svitolina also said they were unsure about getting the vaccine earlier this year.
The Age newspaper in Melbourne has reported that Tiley has “become resigned” to the fact that players will need to be vaccinated after conversations with government officials.
However, Ashleigh Barty’s coach Craig Tyzzer has said quarantine regulations could put players off.
"I know that players won't come out if they have to quarantine," he said this week. "There's already quite a few who we've spoken to who have said if it's like last year, they're not coming.”
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