An extra women’s tennis tournament catering for players serving 14-day hard lockdowns in Melbourne will be added to the calendar ahead of next month’s Australian Open.
It means six tournaments will be staged simultaneously early next month ahead of the Open, which is due to begin on February 8.
There will now be three WTA 500 events with the two originally planned to run from Sunday, January 31 to Saturday, February 6 now having slightly reduced draw sizes.
The new tournament will be staged from February 3 until February 7 and will cater for players who have not been able to train.
Two ATP tournaments will be pushed back 24 hours to start on Monday, February 1 and the ATP Cup will get underway a day later.
A total of 72 players remain in hard lockdown after three chartered flights to the Australian Open returned positive COVID-19 case.
They include former Australian Open champions Victoria Azarenka and Angelique Kerber as well as 2019 US Open winner Bianca Andreescu.
Unable to leave their rooms to train, the new tournament is an olive branch to athletes given the disadvantages they faced in the build up to a two-week grand slam event.
“This has been a particularly challenging time for the athletes in hard lockdown and we, along with the WTA and ATP, aim to do everything we can to help,” Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said.
“These changes to the lead-in events have been made to give the 72 players a little bit of extra time to help them prepare. We also will prioritise them for things like practice sessions, gym and ice baths.”
The world No.29 sparked controversy when she was filmed on a Tennis Australia charter flight to Melbourne for the Australian Open starting on February 8 despite testing positive to a banned substance in an out-of-competition sample.
She was then placed in a hard 14-day lockdown after a passenger on that flight returned a positive test of their own.
Her situation worsened when the International Tennis Federation released a statement on Sunday saying that an independent tribunal had denied the 20-year-old’s application to have her provisional ban lifted.
Portugal’s Joao Sousa will miss his first grand slam since 2013, joining British great Andy Murray as a grand slam casualty because of a positive COVID-19 test.
Sousa since returned a negative test and has no symptoms, but with a 14-day quarantine on arrival has run out of time to join the field.
His withdrawal comes after it was revealed three non-playing people in hard lockdown who tested positive after travelling for the Open had the highly-contagious UK strain of the virus.
NEW AUSTRALIAN OPEN LEAD-IN SCHEDULE
* WTA 500 Gippsland Trophy – January 31-February 6
* WTA 500 Yarra Valley Classic – January 31-February 6
* ATP 250 Great Ocean Road Open – February 1-7
* ATP 250 Murray River Open – February 1-7
* ATP CUP – February 2-6
* WTA 500 Grampians Trophy – February 3-7