Australian Open chiefs cancel Christmas for some players with controversial schedule

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Qualifiers looking to repeat Emma Raducanu’s stunning Grand Slam victory at the Australian Open will be forced to sacrifice Christmas for a spot in the main draw. The qualifying event is now set to take place in the Middle East at the end of December, with the most likely date for the final day of play falling on Christmas Eve. All players are also set to be placed in a quarantine bubble when they arrive in Australia for the first Grand Slam of 2022.

Emma Raducanu’s sensational US Open run will inspire many lower-ranked players entering the qualifying event for the next Grand Slam – January’s Australian Open.

The 18-year-old came through three rounds of qualifying and seven main-draw matches without dropping a set to become the first qualifier in history to reach a Major final, let alone win the title, at the recent US Open.

While the Brit’s qualies experience involved arriving in New York a week early to compete on the smaller courts inside the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center, those looking to gain a spot in the Australian Open main draw will need to give up their Christmas and travel to another country before being allowed to make the trip to Melbourne.

Plans are being made to hold the qualifying tournament in the Middle East, with Dubai set to be the host country for women’s qualifying while the men will compete in Abu Dhabi.

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Christmas Eve is currently set to be the most likely date for the final round of qualifying matches, with charter flights to Australia set to depart from the Middle East between December 23 and December 26.

A similar system was put in place for the tournament earlier this year, with dedicated charter flights transporting players to Melbourne and Adelaide to complete their hotel quarantine periods, with those on flights with a passenger testing positive forced to stay in their rooms for 14 days while other players were given time to go outside and train.

Players gaining direct entry into the Australian Open main draw are also set to potentially miss Christmas, with these charter flights also set to depart around the festive period.

All tournament personnel arriving in Melbourne will be placed into a ‘quarantine bubble’, with hopes to allow players to travel between their hotel and the tournament grounds to practice ahead of the tournament before their 14-day quarantine period is over.

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The Australian Open tournament director and CEO of Tennis Australia, Craig Tiley, has already said that players who are fully vaccinated will benefit from more freedoms than those who are not, with the potential for a less-strict quarantine period.

Last year, players were furious to discover they would need to complete a full 14-day ‘hard’ quarantine if they had taken a charter flight with someone who later tested positive.

The likes of Victoria Azarenka and Britain’s Heather Watson were unable to benefit from the five hours a day that other players were able to spend outside of their hotel rooms, and instead spent the full two inside, something two-time Aussie Open champion Azarenka said “really took a toll”.

Multiple players who were put into a ‘hard’ quarantine, including Paula Badosa and Tennys Sandgren, lost in the first round and suffered physical effects, with their bodies struggling to adjust to playing tennis and training properly outside of their hotel rooms in time for the tournament.

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Players who completed the ‘normal’ quarantine period were allowed to spend five hours outside each day – an hour and a half at the practice court and the gym respectively, an hour to eat, and an hour to travel to-and-from, with some top players completing theirs in Adelaide rather than Melbourne.

Tournament officials came under fire for their handling of strict quarantine periods for those on charter flights returning positive cases, and Craig Tiley admitted earlier this year that players would no longer accept the strict quarantine rules, leading for plans to create a bubble between official tournament hotels and the tournament site.

While quarantine plans are set to be more relaxed for the 2022 tournament, players were able to spend Christmas at home last year after the Australian Open was pushed back from its usual January slot to February.

With the tournament back in its usual familiar place in the calendar for mid to late January in 2022, there is now the added element of qualifying players and main-draw entrants likely being forced to miss Christmas to compete in the preliminary event and catch their charter flight to Australia to complete their quarantine before play begins.
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