I was getting hammered: Tiley's Open hell

·5-min read

Craig Tiley checks his Fitbit to see how much sleep he's had.

"For the last six weeks - three to four hours," Tiley told AAP while detailing the enormous mental and physical toll staging the Australian Open during a global pandemic took not only on him but his entire 600-strong team at Tennis Australia.

"Four hours, 31 (minutes). That was a good night. Three hours, 10. Two hours, 50.

"My sleep score says 'below fair' and I've lost weight because of the stress."

As he would, given Tiley has routinely left TA headquarters at Melbourne Park around two in the morning every day for as long as he can remember.

"Then you've got to drive home and get to bed. Most of the time I Iook at the clock and it's three o'clock."

Tiley has worked almost around the clock since COVID-19 took hold of the world last March, desperate to ensure the 2021 Open went ahead.

But the past six weeks have been particularly brutal, so intense that the Open boss had to send his wife and three young children away to shield them from the stress.

When passengers from three of the 15 charter flights to Australia returned positive tests to coronavirus, forcing 72 players and their entourages into hard quarantine last month, Tiley made a pledge.

He committed to nightly zoom calls with everyone in quarantine.

First with the women's players and their support staff, then the men and theirs and finally with the "critical international workforce" - those flying in to work at the event, including chair umpires, tour officials, broadcasters and international media.

Fronting up to 451 mostly frustrated people in lockdown for at least five hours a night was rough.

"I got abused on the calls. It was significant," Tiley said.

"There were a lot of complaints about a lot of things, and some of it was fine. We were just trying to do our best.

"So I made a decision that was I going to front it and I was going to take the heat from everyone, not anyone from my team.

"But normally when you take heat, you take it once. This was 15 straight days. It's like being attacked for 15 straight days, verbally."

That's when Tiley sent his wife Ali, his twin boys, aged only seven, and eight-year-old daughter to Rosebud on Victoria's Mornington Peninsula.

"Because the stress was too much on the house," he said.

"It was too hard because I don't think I was in a place to be effective when I was at home.

"So they left. I was at home by myself for probably seven, eight days. And I needed to be - I was getting hammered.

"If your'e getting hammered like that, it's probably better that you don't have people around you because I would have vented on someone else.

"They sensed there was a heavy black cloud over the house so they went and when everyone was out of quarantine and they started playing, they came back, and the kids went back to school."

Tiley said he pulled two all-nighters during the "hairy" quarantine period.

"I think I calculated it was like a 50-hour window of staying awake. It's like torture," he said.

"Sleep deprivation is a form of torture.

"But it was my choice. I could have cut things off.

"But it was just important enough to do things."

Tiley conceded there were "absolutely many times" he expected Victorian Premier Dan Andrews to call off the Open.

"I always waited for that text," he said.

"If there was a positive case inside our environment that took out a hundred players, then it was off.

"So that's why we were walking on thin ice the whole time - and we still are.

"We've still to get everybody out of here and we need to finish with shutting the place down and no positive cases and no community spreading."

But, asked if it was all worth it, the steely South African said: "Absolutely. I'd do it a 100 times over".

"I never, ever mentally threw in the towel," Tiley said.

"You hit some low points. When flights were taken out.

"When a hotel worker tested positive and we had to shut the place down for a day and test everyone (four days before the Open started) - a low point.

"The lockdown for five days during the Open - a low point.

"Kicking people out of the stadium at midnight - a low point."

Tiley said Tennis Australia had exhausted the $80 million it had in reserve and would require a concessional loan and years of hardship to dig itself out from financial strife.

But he's proud Australia has pulled off what seemed impossible not so long ago.

"The investment that we made and the support we got from the government will be paid back a thousand times over because we've sent a global message," he said.

"All eyes have been on Melbourne and they've seen this achievement.

"We said at the beginning that this is a signal to the world about what sport can be done in a pandemic."

The 58-year-old will feel forever indebted to his team at TA, who he has ordered to all take 10 days off at Easter when the company shuts down.

"Look, I didn't worry about me personally. I was more really concerned about others," Tiley said.

"I mean, some of the team, I get emotional sometimes when I think about their work because the incredible commitment they've shown is off the charts.

"These people, they obviously love the game. They love working for the company. Not everyone is in that boat, but most are.

"It's a forever bond with most people in the organisation because we've achieved something which will make the legacy of this event, I think, historic."