COVID-19 ravaged the sports world this year as hundreds of events, games and tournaments were forced to adapt to the harsh realities of living through a pandemic. Now, as fans and players look at sports moving forward, everyone is wondering what will happen with one of the world’s first sporting events of the new year: the 2021 Australian Open schedule.
Since 1987, the Australian Open has been held in January, beginning the tennis calendar for the year. Top-ranked players travel from around the world to compete in Melbourne for a shot at one of the sport’s four Grand Slam titles. Although the tournament is the least well-known amongst casual viewers, it’s undoubtedly one of the biggest tennis events in the world.
Naturally, as 2021 quickly approaches, many have begun to wonder what the Australian Open schedule will look like when, and if, the event comes off in January. With so many questions still unanswered, players and fans will have to remain flexible with the ever-changing situation.
Here’s what we know so far:
What’s the Australian Open schedule for 2021?
As of now, the 2021 Australian Open will be played at the beginning of year. The event is scheduled to take place from January 18 to January 31. The women’s final will be played on January 30, with the men’s final occurring the following day.
Some key aspects of the tournament will remain the same. The Grand Slam will be played at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia as players will be featured on all of the venue’s primary courts. The 2021 Australian Open is still expected to be broadcast on ESPN2 with the championship matches on ESPN.
However, like many recent sporting events, the tournament will have a plethora of adaptations.
First off, it’s still unclear if fans will be allowed into the 2021 Australian Open. Tournament director Craig Tilley reportedly hopes that the event can host audiences at 25 percent capacity.
It’s also expected that players will have to undergo some sort of quarantine upon their arrival in the country. Once a competitor’s plane lands in Australia, they will be restricted to their hotel and the tennis court for two weeks. It remains unclear exactly what players will be able to do while in their quarantine.
Perhaps the biggest development for next year’s event came from Tilley in November of 2020. He and other tournament organizers are hoping to develop an Australian tennis “bubble” in order to encourage players to come over safely and well in advance of the Grand Slam. The 2020 U.S. Open lost many big name players amidst the pandemic, something that Tilley hopes the adjustment will prevent.
The Australian tennis “bubble”
In November, reports emerged that Tennis Australia (TA) will employ a ‘hub’ model by moving all Australian Open tune-up events to the Australian state of Victoria. This bubble-like method would allow for over 500 players to fly to Melbourne in mid-December to prepare for the year’s first grand slam.
World men’s No. 1 Novak Djokovic already weighed in on the precarious bubble situation. The 33-year-old Serbian will definitely want to play in Melbourne where he’s won eight times since 2008.
“I hope that it will happen. I want to play in Australia, (at the) Australian Open. I’m not sure about the ATP Cup and the tournaments before, because obviously you have to leave quite in advance, I think two-and-a-half or three weeks prior to the first match,” Djokovic said in November. “I’m just hoping for the sake of tennis and sake of players that we will have the Australian Open…”
However, the state of Victoria’s premier, Daniel Andrews, said the situation remains fluid as Australia still grapples with rising numbers of COVID-19 cases worldwide.
“The notion this is all tied up with a bow, it’s a done deal, that’s simply wrong. The public health team needs to sign off on all of these arrangements and they are just not settled,” Andrews said in mid-November. “It’s a massive event, it’s an event that all of us love … but it comes at a time when the rest of the world is on fire. The notion this is all a done deal and there’s going to be all these tennis players turning up – no, this is not settled at all. It’s an important event, absolutely, but avoiding a third wave is arguably even more important. This needs to be done on the best of public health advice.
What happened at the 2020 tournament?
Before COVID-19 halted the sports world, the 2020 Australian Open came off without a hitch. Although some of the world’s best missed the event due to injury, fans were still treated to high quality tennis.
21-year-old Sofia Kenin shocked the women’s field and rallied to win the 2020 Australian Open over Garbine Muguruza. The American phenom beat Coco Gauff and world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty on the way to her first Grand Slam title.
On the men’s side, Djokovic continued his dominance at Melbourne Park, downing Austrian upstart Dominic Thiem. The 33-year-old star now has 17 total Grand Slam wins, ranking him third all-time behind Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Eight of those wins have come at the Australian Open.
Here’s a look at past Australian Open Champions over the last five years:
2020: Novak Djokovic (men’s), Sofia Kenin (women’s)
2019: Novak Djokovic (men’s), Naomi Osaka (women’s)
2018: Roger Federer (men’s), Caroline Wozniacki (women’s)
2017: Roger Federer (men’s), Serena Williams (women’s)
2016: Novak Djokovic (men’s), Angelique Kerber (women’s)
Who are the favorites at the 2021 Australian Open?
With so much uncertainty, it’s rather hard to make predictions for the upcoming Grand Slam.
On the men’s side, Djokovic will definitely come in as the presumptive favorite. He currently ranks No. 1 in the world and he’s clearly shown his knack for winning on the hardcourt in Melbourne.
However, it’s likely that Thiem will return to the Australian Open as a potential challenger. After losing the finals to Djokovic in 2020, the 27-year-old Austrian played some of the best tennis of his career. Thiem finally broke through and won his first Grand Slam at the 2020 U.S. Open.
39-year-old Roger Federer also announced that he will return to Melbourne in 2021.
In the women’s draw, the field will be far more open. Rising star Naomi Osaka announced she might be returning to tennis in January, which will definitely increase interest in the tournament. Kenin will also likely return to try and defend her 2020 championship. Meanwhile, Serena Williams confirmed in Oct. 2020 that she would play in this year’s Grand Slam.
Stay tuned for more updates on the 2021 Australian Open schedule.