Tiley confirms 'historic' Australian Open start for February 8

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Serbia's Novak Djokovic is the defending men's Australian Open champion

Players will compete for Aus$71 million (US$54 million) at next year's Australian Open, tournament chief Craig Tiley said Saturday, confirming the Grand Slam will begin three weeks late and players must undergo quarantine.

Singles, doubles and wheelchair competitions will all be played as usual after agreement was reached to stage the event following eight months of talks between Tennis Australia and state authorities in Melbourne.

But the men's and women's qualifiers will be held in Doha and Dubai respectively from January 10-13 while the junior championships have been postponed until later in the year.

"This will be an historic Australian Open on so many levels," tournament director Tiley said in confirming the February 8-21 dates revealed by the ATP Tour last week.

"For the first time in more than 100 years, the Australian Open will start in February and we look forward to offering the players what we believe will be one of their best playing experiences in 2021."

The tournament was originally due to begin on January 18 and players will now arrive in Australia from January 15 to serve two weeks of mandatory quarantine in a bio-secure bubble, many of them coming from countries where the pandemic is still raging.

They are expected to stay at designated hotels but will reportedly be allowed to practise and exercise for up to five hours a day, shuttled between their accommodation and Melbourne Park, where the tournament is held.

Melbourne only emerged from a months-long lockdown in October following a second wave of Covid-19, complicating planning for the Grand Slam and how to safely permit so many players and support staff into the country.

Australia has largely contained the coronavirus although a new outbreak in Sydney over recent days has sparked fresh restrictions in parts of the city and even state border closures, heightening fears it could spread to other parts of the country.

A slimmed-down, 12-team ATP Cup, the relocated Adelaide International, and an ATP 250 tournament will all be held in Melbourne ahead of the Slam.

The WTA has yet to announce its early-season schedule, but women's tournaments are also expected to be played in Melbourne before the Open.

Tiley said the Grand Slam prize money would remain at this year's Aus$71 million, but more than Aus$80 million would be at stake during the players' time in Australia.

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