Australian Open to be played without fans as Melbourne returns to lockdown

Jonathan Veal, PA

The Australian Open will continue without fans for the next five days after Melbourne was placed in a lockdown.

Premier Daniel Andrews announced new “circuit-breaker” restrictions will come in from 11.59pm local time on Friday following a cluster of 13 coronavirus cases linked to the Holiday Inn hotel at Melbourne Airport.

The tournament had been played in front of a reduced capacity for the opening five days, but it will now continue behind closed doors while the lockdown is in place, with Victorians having been told to stay at home.

“Tennis Australia continues to work with the government to ensure the health and safety of everyone,” tournament organisers said in a statement.

“We are notifying ticketholders, players and staff that there will be no fans onsite at the AO for five days, commencing from Saturday 13 February.

“The AO broadcast-only contingency plan will commence from Saturday 13 February until restrictions are lifted. Play will continue uninterrupted on broadcast, albeit without spectators onsite.

“We will provide further updates on the new conditions as soon as possible.”

Fans are allowed to remain on the grounds for Friday’s play which sees Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Dominic Thiem and Naomi Osaka in action, though have been offered refunds for the evening session which often runs past midnight.

Fans will no longer be allowed in the Australian Open for the next five days
Fans will no longer be allowed in the Australian Open for the next five days (Rick Rycrift/AP)

Tournament director Craig Tiley says the players must now enter a tournament bubble, but are happy to keep on playing.

“The players have all been very good about it,” he said in a press conference. “They understand. They have been through a rigorous programme already.

“All along in this process, we have said the number one priority will be the safety of the community. This was one of our plans, was to be able to compete in a bubble in a safe way.

“I imagine most of them (the players) will spend all their time here.

“One thing they cannot do is go around the city, they won’t be able to do that, but that’s expected in the next five days, all of us will be adhering to that.

“One thing the players have asked for is when they have lost, to have the comfort and be assured they will be able to fly home.

“We do have a very very clear event plan. We did receive very positive feedback on our event plan. A lot of work has been done leading in.

“The feedback we’ve had from all the players is they just want to get on and play. They’ve been playing in a bubble for a year now.”

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