Roger Federer and Serena Williams were among the entries announced Thursday for the coronavirus-disrupted Australian Open, with tournament director Craig Tiley vowing a ‘happy slam’ after months of careful planning.
All of the world’s top players signed up, led by world number one Novak Djokovic and Ashleigh Barty.
There was a question mark over Swiss great Federer, who this month warned he was in a “race against time” to get fit after two rounds of knee surgery.
But he started training in Dubai and was among those signed up to play at Melbourne Park as he aims for a seventh title.
American superstar Williams, who like Federer turns 40 next year, is also engaged as she once again attempts to tie Margaret Court as the 24-time Grand Slam champion.
Her last triumph in the majors came in Australia in 2017 while she was pregnant.
“There are so many great storylines for AO 2021,” Tiley said.
“Serena is aiming for her eighth title while Novak, who often seems invincible at Melbourne Park, is aiming for a record ninth title.
“Our own world number one Ash Barty will return to Grand Slam competition, as will Roger Federer on his return from injury.
The opening Grand Slam of the year, which will be played in front of at least 50% of normal crowds, has been pushed back three weeks until February 8.
All players must undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival, during which they will be constantly tested for Covid-19 but allowed to train five hours a day in a bio-secure bubble.
“Although the AO is a little different from previous years, everyone’s safety is our top priority,” Tiley said.
“We have the opportunity to have a very safe and happy Slam, and to give the players the experience of competing again in front of crowds, which they have been missing for most of this year.
The men’s and women’s qualifiers will take place in Doha and Dubai respectively from January 10-13, with players arriving in Melbourne from January 15 on special charter flights.
A lightened 12-team ATP Cup, the relocated Adelaide International and an ATP 250 tournament will all be played in Melbourne once the players are out of isolation.
Two WTA 500 tournaments are also scheduled at Melbourne Park from January 31 to February 7.
Melbourne only emerged from a multi-month lockdown in October following a second wave of Covid-19, complicating Grand Slam planning and how to allow so many players and support staff to enter in the country safely.
Australia has largely contained the coronavirus although a new outbreak in Sydney last week triggered new restrictions in parts of the city and even state border closures.
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