Leading up to the Australian Open, the WTA added a new competition for quarantined players.
By Alex Holmes
With the Australian Open less than two weeks away, COVID-19 dramatically shook up the schedules of the event’s participants. The players have been locked up in quarantine ever since, and now are finally ready to start up in the next few days. Between the travel to Australia, contact tracing and no training for the quarantined players, here is a run down of what is happening ahead of the premier tennis championship.
Earlier this month, positive tests on the flights carrying players bound for the Australian Open resulted in 72 players having to undergo a strict two-week quarantine upon arrival Down Under. Yes, it was strict: the players were not allowed to leave their rooms nor were they allowed to practice during quarantine. The Australian government has been successful at keeping COVID-19 under control, and it was not going to let the arrival of the world’s best tennis players put its low numbers in jeopardy. With players raising concerns surrounding their inability to prepare for the Grand Slam in isolation, Tennis Australia announced a third WTA 500 event in the Melbourne Summer Series: the Grampians Trophy.
The Grampians Trophy is “for those players who have been unable to train during the 14-day quarantine lockdown,” the WTA said in a press release. The event is a preparatory competition that will give the quarantined players a chance to train for the Grand Slam event. The tournament starts February 3 and will finish on February 7, one day before the Australian Open begins. The 28-player field includes four players ranked in the world’s top 20.
Bianca Andreescu’s return to the court is highly anticipated after she missed the 2020 season due to injury. Her coach tested positive for coronavirus, forcing the 2019 U.S. Open champion to quarantine and shift her attention to the Grampians Trophy as a tune-up for the Grand Slam. The field also includes Victoria Azarenka, Angelique Kerber and Sloane Stephens. The draw will be released Feb. 1.
Two events that were originally scheduled as part of the Melbourne Summer Series are the Gippsland Trophy and Yarra Valley Classic—named in honor of the State of Victoria’s regions that were devastated by last summer’s wildfires. The two lead-up events will run simultaneously from January 31 to February 6. Both draws have 54 single players and 28 doubles teams.
World No. 1 and hometown favorite Ashleigh Barty (Australia) leads the Yarra Valley Classic field, which also includes the defending Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, as well as both Williams sisters. The second and third-ranked players in the world, Simona Halep and Naomi Osaka, are the favorites for the Gippsland Trophy. Poland’s Iga Swiatek, the 19-year-old phenome, is coming off her first Grand Slam title at the 2020 French Open. Both draws are set for release on Friday, Jan. 28.
While the original two WTA events, the Gippsland Trophy and Yarra Valley Classic, will serve as an appetizer to the Australian Open, the Grampians Trophy will provide the first look as to how these tennis players respond to COVID-19’s uncertainty and the prolonged lack of training that came with it. It appears that some quarantined players made the most out of their isolation, keeping fans updated with videos of them turning their hotel rooms into make-shift training grounds. The Grampians Trophy will leave a legacy of how the tennis world adapted to this unprecedented time in sports history. And who knows? Maybe this new tournament will give us this year’s Australian Open champion.
The Australian Open will run February 8-21 in Melbourne. For fans in the U.S., first round coverage starts on Sunday, February 7, at 7 P.M. EST (February 8, 11 A.M., local time) on the ESPN networks.