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Was the 2021 Australian Open a Success?

In 2020 and 2021, watching live sport behind closed doors has become a familiar sight. The 2021 Australia Open was mostly different, however. Fans were allowed at some of the tournament throughout February, but changes to local restrictions meant fans could not cheer on the players for the entire event. As one of the first events to welcome fans (partly) back to watch top-level sport, was the Australian Open a success in February?

Players at the tournament were delighted at having the crowds back

In an ideal world, most tennis and sports supporters will be able to return safely to stadia soon to lift the atmosphere of elite sporting events. What did the Australian Open show us about what life will be like when fans eventually return to watch sports across the world?

Was the Australian Open a Success?

Fans returned to seats for the beginning of the Australian Open in early February. Even though spectators came to Melbourne in a reduced capacity, with only 50% of the normal crowd allowed in, it was a joyful moment and having fans cheering and gasping at the action made a welcome change to the viewing experience.

Players at the tournament were delighted at having crowds back too. Naomi Osaka, Venus Williams, Dominic Thiem and Milos Raonic all explained how the crowd adds more to their game, even if it felt strange seeing fans in the stands for the first time in nearly a year. 

But reality struck during the Australian Open as local restrictions were enforced by the local government in Victoria, the state where the Australian Open takes place, after the first five days of the event. 

As a result, fans could not attend some of the later stages of the tournament but the crowds did eventually return for the men’s and women’s semi-finals and final matches as restrictions were lifted in Victoria. 

This allowed thousands to witness Novak Djokovic’s emphatic final win at Melbourne Park, which ended Daniil Medvedev’s 20 match winning run, and Naomi Osaka’s straight set final win over Jennifer Brady.

The hope is that fans will return to sporting events later in 2021

Even though fans were not at Melbourne Park for all of the Australian Open, having crowds to share the moments of victory, loss and excitement made a welcome change from behind-closed doors sporting events. 

What Will Sport be Like When Fans Return More Widely?

The hope is that fans will return to sporting events later in 2021, depending on the context in different regions and countries. The Australian Open gave us a short glimpse into the future of how many sporting events are likely to continue at reduced capacity for some time. For many, having just a glimpse of fans and atmosphere will improve the viewing experience of sport, as it did at the Australian Open. 

With the Olympics, Euro 2020 and Wimbledon all set to take place over the summer, fans will be excited at the prospect of seeing thousands of fans in seats, enjoying the action. 

However, as the Australian Open showed us in February, situations can change quickly and, while it is the hope of millions of sports fans that events return to some level of normality in the coming months, caution will be taken by event organisers and governments before fans return completely. 

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