Australian Open snafu? Legal quarrel looms with chosen player hotel

Australian Open snafu? Legal quarrel looms with chosen player hotel

Owners of penthouse apartments situated above The Westin Melbourne are upset with an arrangement that increases their risk of contracting COVID-19 by being exposed to hundreds of international tennis players.

As tournaments in Abu Dhabi, Antalya and Delray Beach make final preparations to launch the 2021 tennis season next week, a new snag has emerged with the staging of the Australian Open.  

In a collective story published by The Age (Melbourne) and Sydney Morning Herald, Tennis Australia now faces a potential legal dispute with the property they selected for player quarantining. The Westin Melbourne is not exclusively a hotel, for 36 penthouse apartments sit atop its structure. Needless to say, owners of those units are upset with an arrangement that increases their risk of contracting COVID-19 by being exposed to hundreds of international tennis players.

According to the report, the permanent residents were not notified of the agreement Tennis Australia struck with the Victorian Government until five days after it was signed.

"It's incredibly arrogant to ambush us this way as if it's a done deal,” said Mark Nicholson, who has owned his apartment for more than 15 years. “There are substantive public health and legal issues that have not even been examined.”

Owners have “legal rights” to roughly 30 percent of the hotel’s common areas. On New Year’s Eve, Westin Melbourne’s general manager Stephen Ferringo was informed of the concerns by lawyers representing the owners’ corporation. Two days later, Ferringo told the Age and Herald, “Under the arrangements, the existing residents at The Westin Melbourne will have no contact with CQV [COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria] staff or guests and will use a separate entrance and lifts. Their floor will remain exclusive while there will be no reticulation of ventilation between the floors.”

Should the hotel opt not to respond, an injunction in the Supreme Court or the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal is the next step for owners, according to their lawyer Graeme Efron.

Players have a limited window to arrive, with January 15 and 16 listed as the only options in a document Tennis Australia sent out in mid-December. With no alternatives, it could be a reason why several players reconsidered starting their seasons in week one. Withdrawals have escalated in recent days, which has seen the likes of Andy Murray (Delray Beach), Jannik Sinner (Antalya) and Belinda Bencic (Abu Dhabi) pull out.

Every player will be tested prior to boarding charter flights into Melbourne and will then be tested on five more occasions before being cleared to compete. Australian Open qualifying is being held in Doha for the men and Dubai for the women from January 10-13.

Should all be resolved, the modified ‘Summer Down Under’ is scheduled to begin January 31 with a reduced 12-team ATP Cup, two WTA 500 events and two ATP 250 events. Melbourne Park will then kick off the Australian Open on February 8.