The Australian Open will go ahead as scheduled, starting on Monday at Melbourne Park, despite the detection of a Covid-19 case in a hotel quarantine worker at a facility linked to the tennis.
“We’re absolutely confident the Australian Open will go ahead,” Tennis Australia’s chief executive, Craig Tiley, said on Thursday afternoon. “We will be starting on Monday and we have no intention of changing times.”
But players eager to know which side of the draw they are on and the identity of their opening opponents will be kept waiting, with the draw for the year’s first grand slam put back from Thursday to Friday.
Some 500 players and support staff were forced into isolation after the infected person – a 26-year-old man working at one of the hotels containing some of the sizeable tennis cohort visiting Melbourne – returned a positive test result on Wednesday.
Testing began in earnest on Thursday morning and those affected will remain in isolation until they return a negative test. As a result, Thursday’s play in the six warm-up tournaments being contested at Melbourne Park was postponed.
Depending on test results, those events should resume on Friday, with a busy day of tennis expected as organisers play catch-up.
“We know that we have a period now where we have to work with those 507 players and their staff,” Tiley said. “The probability is very low that there’ll be an issue though.
“We expect them all to test negative. The plan is to continue to play [in the lead-up events] tomorrow as planned. If we have to go through this again, we’ll go through this again. We have thee and a half weeks of tennis to play and we’ll go an as scheduled.”
How Tennis Australia plans to squeeze all remaining matches in before Sunday would be announced later on Thursday, Tiley said, but asking some players to play two matches in one day is a likely scenario.
With inclement weather forecast to hit Melbourne on Friday, Tiley said matches would be played on courts under roofs.
The draw for the Open was scheduled to be made behind closed doors on Thursday evening but will now take place on Friday afternoon.
The delay should allow for all test results to be returned and, assuming there are no positives, a full draw will be able to be made, with the tournament referee Wayne McEwen in attendance.
“It will be a smaller version to what we’ve done before because the focus is to get the draw done and get it out there so everyone can start planning what they are doing Monday and who they are watching,” Tiley said.
“We will make the decisions on which halves play where by Saturday as we’ve got to get through quite a few matches on Friday.”
Earlier on Thursday, Victoria’s deputy chief health officer, Prof Allen Cheng, said the risk to players and their support staff who had been quarantining at the Grand Hyatt hotel of contracting the virus was low.
“I think it’s unlikely [they would test positive] but we have asked for testing of all of the players and other people who have been in that hotel,” Cheng said. “We think the risk to other guests at the hotel, so tennis players and their accompanying staff, is relatively low because they were in the rooms at the time as opposed to staff who were outside the rooms.
“That said, the last case to leave the hotel for the health hotel left on the 22nd so we’re now getting on to close to 14 days since that time. So we think that risk is relatively low so we’re testing them to be sure, and it’s precautionary.”
Victoria’s premier, Dan Andrews, struck a more cautious tone and said there were no guarantees. “The tournament proper should not be affected by this, [but] these things can change,” he said.