Looking ahead to the 2021 Australian Open
While Covid has decimated the sports calendar around the world this year, its hoped crowds of up to 50% of capacity will be able to attend the 2021 Australian Open.
Sport in Australia has been affected by the pandemic, but generally not quite as bad as the rest of the world. The F1 Grand Prix was the first major event lost back in March and while the football codes took an extended break, they soon returned, first to empty stadiums and then in front of limited crowds.
The AFL Grand Final has been moved from its traditional home to the Gabba and the Brisbane venue will be filled to 75% of its capacity on Saturday, while ANZ Stadium will be at 50% capacity for the NRL Grand Final the following night, with 40,000 fans in attendance.
Melbourne, often referred to as the sports capital, hasn’t hosted a sports event with crowds since March, and no sports events at all since early July. While the AFL Grand Final was relocated interstate, other upcoming major events including the Melbourne Cup, Boxing Day Test and Australian Open are primed to go ahead.
The 2020 Australian Open, won by Novak Djokovic, went ahead as planned and was the only Grand Slam event that proceeded on its usual date (in mid-January). Wimbledon was cancelled, while the US Open and French Open were delayed.
In January 2021, Melbourne Park is again set to host the first major of the year, and it promises to be an exciting, if not uncertain event. The tournament attracted a record crowd of 812,174 across the 14 days this year and tournament director Craig Tiley is hopeful fans will be allowed into the event next year also, albeit fewer and under certain restrictions.
“If we were to do it behind closed doors, that’s possible – we’d still be able to have the matches and all the great content go worldwide, but ideally we’d like to have some crowds,” Tiley is reported as saying.
There is also uncertainty as to whether the current champion will be defending his title. Novak Djokovic was controversially eliminated from the US Open after an angry strike of the ball hit a line judge, then he was beaten in straight sets in the French Open final a couple of weeks later. His coach, 2001 Wimbledon winner Goran Ivanisevic, claims that the eight-time Australian Open winner is uncertain as to how he will prepare for the event in Melbourne, given a potential quarantine ahead of the tournament.
One player desperate to be on the court in January is Andy Murray. The British player is a five-time finalist in Australia but has never won the competition and after seemingly retiring in 2019, it looked unlikely that he would ever get the chance to rectify that record. However, he told Tennis 365 he was keen to take part in next year’s event after a spirited 2020.
Gala Bingo explains how Murray’s victory at Wimbledon in 2016 was the top winning moment of the year in the British sporting calendar, and it earned him a knighthood and the adulation of the nation. Recently, his comeback victories against Germany's Alexander Zverev at the Western and Southern Open and Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka at the US Open in 2020 caused almost as much delight as he battled back from a potentially career-ending surgery.
However, it would be hard to look beyond Rafael Nadal as the favourite for the Open, even at this early stage. His demolition of Djokovic at Roland-Garros demonstrated how he is still right on top of his game despite the broken season tennis has endured. The men’s tournament in 2021 might not be lifted by an Australian, although Alex De Minaur is one to watch, but the women’s title might well be.
World number one Ash Barty dropped out of the US Open and the French Open, and aims to make a comeback on home soil. Barty was a wildcard doubles finalist in 2013, and will be hoping her return in Melbourne will be a catalyst for another Grand Slam title.
The redevelopment of Melbourne Park continues, with the latest additions set to be unveiled ahead of the 2021 Australian Open – a new 5,000-seat showcourt and state-of-the-art function centre. It’ll put the finishing touches on the 10-year redevelopment which ensures it retains the title as the world’s best tennis precinct.