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Australian Open expected to start Feb. 8, include fans

American Sofia Kenin is expected to defend her 2020 French Open title in the 2021 Grand Slam, which is planned for Feb. 8.  Photo by Lukas Coch/EPA-EFE
American Sofia Kenin is expected to defend her 2020 French Open title in the 2021 Grand Slam, which is planned for Feb. 8.  Photo by Lukas Coch/EPA-EFE

Dec. 2 (UPI) -- The 2021 Australian Open, the first Grand Slam on the tennis season calendar, is expected to start Feb. 8, about three weeks usual date.

Tournament director Craig Tiley announced that date in a letter sent to players and obtained by Australia's Age newspaper and News Corp Australia. French newspaper L'Equipe also obtained the plans for the 2021 Australian Open.

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"It's taken a while, but the great news is it looks like we are going to be able to hold the Australian Open on Feb. 8," Tiley said in the letter, which was emailed.

"Players will have to quarantine for two weeks beginning Jan. 15, but the Victorian government has agreed to special conditions for Australian Open participants -- agreeing that they need to be able to prepare for a Grand Slam," he wrote.

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"There will be strict conditions, but after quarantine, players are free to stay where they want, go where they want, play lead-in matches and then compete in an Australian Open in front of significant crowds in a great Melbourne atmosphere for the first time in many months."

The new start date allows for players to train during the quarantines, but only after they test negative for COVID-19 on the second day of isolation. Players will be tested in their hotel rooms five times during the two-week quarantine period.

Tennis Australia will pay for charter flights and quarantine costs for players and their entourages. Meals and accommodations also will be provided.

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The 2021 Australian Open was slated to start Jan. 18 and end Jan. 31, but Tennis Australia and the Victorian government have been in negotiations to determine an alternate date due to COVID-19 restrictions in Melbourne.

The 2020 Australian Open was the only Grand Slam tournament played on schedule this year prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Wimbledon was scheduled for June 29 to July 12 before it was canceled for the first time since World War II.

The 2020 French Open was moved from May to September, while the 2020 U.S. Open was delayed by one week due to the pandemic.

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