'Very slow': Strange scenes as Australian Open kicks off amid pandemic

Sam Goodwin
·Sports Editor
·5-min read
A spectator, pictured here wearing a mask in Rod Laver Arena.
A spectator is seen wearing a mask in Rod Laver Arena. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Fans have largely stayed away from Melbourne Park for the opening day session of the Australian Open, sparking bizarre scenes of empty stands and thousands of free seats.

Up to 30,000 people can attend the Australian Open every day under strict regulations introduced for the year’s first grand slam.

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But as play kicked off on Monday morning, the normally busy and lively grounds of Melbourne Park were largely deserted.

Rod Laver Arena, pictured here as Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova plays Naomi Osaka.
A general view of Rod Laver Arena as Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova plays Naomi Osaka. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Channel 7 reporter Nick McCullum wrote on Twitter that ticket sales were “slow for day one”.

“Quiet start in the crowd for the Australian Open,” he wrote alongside a photo of a smattering of fans.

“Those here are excited and feel they are in one of the safest areas in Melbourne.

“But ticket sales are slow for day one.”

Social media users pointed out the stark difference between the images being broadcast from Australia, as opposed to those in America at the Super Bowl.

Authorities allowed 22,000 spectators at the 66,000-seat capacity Raymond James Stadium on Sunday for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ showdown with Kansas City.

While fans were forced to social-distance and wear face masks, there were concerns the aftermath could spark the next super-spreader event.

On Monday in Melbourne it appeared as though many tennis fans had second thoughts about attending the Australian Open.

Minister for Sport Martin Pakula had earlier announced that a daily crowd capacity of 30,000 for first eight days and then 25,000 per day from the start of the quarter-finals would be allowed.

Spectators, pictured here watching Naomi Osaka and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
Spectators watch Naomi Osaka and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on the opening day of the Australian Open. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

“Over the 14 days, it means we will have up to 390,000 people here at Melbourne Park, about 50 per cent of the average over the past few years,” he said.

“Rod Laver Arena will have incredible atmosphere, not that different to the atmosphere we’ve seen at all the Opens in the years past.

“It will not be the same … but it will be the most significant international event with crowds that the world has seen in many, many months.”

Tennis fans to wear masks when roof is closed

Over the weekend the Victorian government clarified that fans will be required to wear a mask when the roof is closed on the main arenas.

The ruling is in line with restriction changes on Wednesday, following Melbourne’s Grand Hyatt virus case.

It applies to the main courts of Rod Laver Arena, Margaret Court Arena and John Cain Arena, where the biggest stars in world tennis will feature in the first grand slam of the year.

“These venues are deemed to be indoor spaces under the restrictions and masks use is required by all spectators and officials,” a government spokesman said.

A woman, pictured here before the start of Naomi Osaka's match against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
A woman looks down at her phone before the start of Naomi Osaka's match against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. (Photo by WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images)

Spectators can remove masks when the roof is open, while players are exempt from the rule.

All 507 players, officials and support staff have returned negative COVID-19 results after undergoing further testing following the hotel quarantine worker case.

The results paved the way for the Australian Open to go ahead as planned from Monday.

“We're pleased that everyone tested negative,” said Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley, the tournament director.

“The past few days haven't been easy for anyone and I'm incredibly proud of the players and our staff.

“Many of us have had sleepless nights, but that's just how it goes.”

with AAP

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