LONDON: The WTA is planning to start the 2021 season in the first week of January outside Australia before the players travel to Melbourne for quarantine ahead of the Grand Slam, women’s tour chief Steve Simon told Reuters. The Australian Open looks likely to be pushed back from its scheduled Jan. 18 start as Tennis Australia (TA) continue talks with local government over COVID-19 protocols to be established for Melbourne Park. Negotiations over when the players arrive in Australia and what they will be allowed to do during their 14 days of quarantine have dragged out over the last few weeks but Simon was confident the tournament would go ahead. “The Australian Open, we’re expecting it to happen,” he said by telephone from the United States. “Obviously the Australian Open will come with a quarantine period to enter Australia so it does create challenges around the month of January. “We’re looking right now at hopefully close to finalising in the next week or so the ability to stage some events in the week of Jan. 4 to start the year.” Following the quarantine period in Australia, the tour have planned a short swing in Australia, including the year’s first Grand Slam, before returning as closely as possible to its traditional calendar, Simon added. Normally both professional tours kick off their seasons in Australia, and in 2020 the WTA had events in Brisbane, Shenzen and Auckland starting on Jan. 6. Both China and New Zealand, like Australia, have strict health measures for international arrivals to curb the risk of imported COVID-19 cases and it appears likely the tour would have to look to other countries to start the 2021 season. Simon said the WTA was working with its members and Tennis Australia to firm up plans. “I think we’re again getting to a good place and we’ll be able to start the year and then transition into Australia and then have a great year,” Simon added.