Major warm-up for Australian Open cancelled again due to Covid-19 rules

Published October 27, 2021
In this file photo, Maria Sharapova of Russia hits a return during her match with Laura Siegemond of Germany which was abandoned due to the smoke from Australia's bushfires at the Kooyong Classic tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 14, 2020.  — AFP
In this file photo, Maria Sharapova of Russia hits a return during her match with Laura Siegemond of Germany which was abandoned due to the smoke from Australia's bushfires at the Kooyong Classic tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 14, 2020. — AFP

MELBOURNE: A major warm-up tournament for the Australian Open was cancelled on Tuesday, with organisers blaming uncertainty over Covid-19 rules players will face in Melbourne.

It is the second year the Kooyong Classic, normally played in the weeks leading up to the season-opening Grand Slam, has been scrapped because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Kooyong president Adam Cossar said he was disappointed the event could not take place in January 2022 but hopes it will return in 2023.

“With a great deal of uncertainty over recent months about the arrangements that would be in place in January, it has not been possible to make the best plans to deliver the best and safest sporting [event],” he said in a statement.

Players are still awaiting clarification on whether they need to be fully vaccinated to participate at the Australian Open, also in Melbourne, and other tennis tournaments in the country.

Such a requirement would cast doubt on nine-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic’s ability to defend his title — he is one of many players who have refused to share their vaccination status.

A leaked WTA email this week suggested unvaccinated players could take part provided they completed 14 days in hotel quarantine. Double-jabbed players would though enjoy “complete freedom of movement”.

However, the Premier of Victoria — the state where the Grand Slam is held — said he wanted all players to be fully vaccinated.

“All the people who are watching the tennis at the Australian Open, they’re going to be double-vaxxed, all the people that work there are going to be double-vaxxed,” Dan Andrews told public radio.

“It stands to reason that if you want to get into the country to be part of that tournament, then you should be double-vaxxed as well.”

What that means for Djokovic and his bid for a record 21st Grand Slam title remains to be seen.

His absence would rob the tournament of arguably its biggest name while leaving the record bid in limbo.

Professional athletes are under a vaccine mandate in Victoria which also covers coaches, officials, media and other staff involved in elite competition.

That means tennis players might well be the only unvaccinated cohort at the Australian Open, where ballkids, fans and umpires will need proof of vaccination.

Such a scenario has been viewed dimly by some fans and media pundits, who have urged organisers Tennis Australia and the government to take a stand.

“Even if that means game, set and match for world number one Novak Djokovic. It's double vax or default,” Greg Baum wrote in Melbourne newspaper The Age.

Published in Dawn, October 27th, 2021

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