MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Roger Federer and Serena Williams have confirmed they will take part in the 2021 Australian Open, with the year’s first Grand Slam in Melbourne expected to allow fans to fill up to 50% of seats, Tennis Australia (TA) boss Craig Tiley said on Sunday.
The return of fans will mark a big change for Melbourne, which has been under a strict coronavirus lockdown for nearly three months. The state of Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital, accounts for 90% of Australia’s 894 COVID-19-related deaths.
Federer reached the semi-finals of this year’s Australian Open but the 20-times Grand Slam winner has missed the rest of the season after undergoing a second procedure on his right knee.
“Roger this morning just confirmed publicly he’ll be here. Serena Williams will be here obviously trying to get Margaret Court’s record, so we’re excited about the players that will be here and what we’ll put on,” Tiley told Channel Nine.
Federer, 39, said he can’t wait to return to the tour.
“Thankfully, with COVID-19, I’ve been healthy, everybody around me as well,” the Swiss said in a recent podcast. “The Tour coming to a halt was tough to see but it’s back now so that’s nice.
Williams, also 39, pulled out of her second round match at the French Open due to an Achilles injury and is still one short of Court’s record 24 Grand Slam titles.
Many top players missed the U.S. Open Grand Slam due to concerns over the pandemic while Australia’s women’s world number one Ash Barty also opted to not travel to Paris to defend her French Open title.
TA are planning to establish bio-security ‘bubbles’ in cities across Australia from early December and are looking at giving players who arrive early Down Under more tournament play opportunities to prepare for the Jan. 18-31 Grand Slam, which had over 800,000 fans at its Melbourne Park site this year.
“We’re going to have six weeks of tennis, in fact more tennis and events than ever before,” said Tiley.
“(Players) will have two weeks of quarantine that they will do in cities around Australia and for those two weeks we’re creating a bubble from the hotel to the courts in a training environment, not too dissimilar to what’s happened with the AFL and NRL.
“By then, we expect the border to be completely open and we can move from city to city and then come down to Melbourne for the Australian Open for the last two weeks of January.”
Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; Editing by Hugh Lawson
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