|Venue: Melbourne Park Dates: 8-21 February|
|Protection: Hear on BBC Radio 5 Stay Sports activities Additional and on-line; Stay textual content on chosen matches on the BBC Sport web site and app.|
With many of the world nonetheless dwelling underneath strict coronavirus restrictions, there may be some gentle aid for tennis followers within the type of a really totally different Australian Open.
The primary Grand Slam of the 12 months does happen in Melbourne as deliberate, though it begins three weeks later than standard on 8 February.
Serbia’s world primary Novak Djokovic and Spain’s Rafael Nadal – who’s aiming to win a twenty first main title and transfer away from Roger Federer – lead the boys’s area.
One other all-time nice, Serena Williams, headlines the ladies’s event. The American launches one other try and land that elusive, record-equalling twenty fourth Grand Slam singles title.
From a British perspective, there is no such thing as a Andy Murray, with Johanna Konta and Dan Evans main the nation’s hopes.
However it’s a event that has been mired in controversy.
Held in a rustic imposing among the hardest coronavirus restrictions on this planet, many Australians argued it shouldn’t be performed in any respect.
Months of strict border controls have helped Australia restrict Covid-19 instances to fewer than 29,000 and deaths to fewer than 1,000.
Australian participant Nick Kyrgios stated he might perceive any sense of uneasiness over 1,200 gamers and help workers flying in from abroad.
“Whether or not or not it is the suitable time, that is not for me to say as a result of we’re going forward with it,” the world quantity 47 stated.
“However I believe sport is crucial for us. Particularly with tennis having such a wealthy tradition in Australia, I believe we virtually want it in a way.
“I believe so long as everybody follows the protocols then it is OK. All of us want to remain the course with every little thing to verify it does not take off once more, as a result of the fact is it is killing folks and it isn’t a recreation.”
Is it a good competitors?
To ensure that the event to happen, Australian Open bosses needed to agree an unbending coverage with the Victorian state authorities over the arrival of the gamers.
That meant these travelling needed to take a look at unfavorable earlier than taking a constitution flight to Australia in mid-January, then undertake a 14-day quarantine interval the place they might solely go away their room for 5 hours every day.
Nonetheless, stricter restrictions have been imposed on 72 gamers – together with British quantity two Heather Watson – after optimistic Covid-19 instances have been discovered on three of the constitution flights certain for the event.
These gamers have been confined to their rooms for 14 days, unable to exit to practise like their rivals and left having to consider novel methods to maintain sharp indoors.
In an effort to heat up the gamers for the Grand Slam, six tournaments have taken place concurrently at Melbourne Park this week – together with a particularly organized occasion solely for these WTA gamers within the exhausting quarantine.
There was additional disruption this week when 160 gamers have been informed to isolate, pending a unfavorable coronavirus take a look at, after a safety guard on the resort the place they have been quarantined examined optimistic.
“Everybody is de facto enjoying it by ear. No person actually is aware of who’s in kind and who just isn’t,” added Kyrgios, who competed for the primary time in virtually a 12 months in one of many warm-up occasions.
There was additional discontent amongst some gamers concerning the star names – together with Nadal, Djokovic, Williams and US Open champion Naomi Osaka – spending their quarantine interval in Adelaide as a substitute of Melbourne.
Whereas they too have been solely allowed out of their rooms for 5 hours as per the quarantine guidelines, there was bristling at a perceived preferential therapy and accusations they’d an unfair benefit.
French doubles participant Edouard Roger-Vasselin stated there was a sense these gamers had “extra time to arrange and extra time to practise.”
“Over 14 days that could possibly be a giant distinction between these gamers and the remainder of the group,” he added.
Australian Open event director Craig Tiley stated the highest gamers have been despatched to Adelaide to make sure organisers didn’t exceed the restrict set by the authorities for folks quarantining in Melbourne.
Can the returning Barty lastly finish Australia’s wait?
House hopes of a primary Australian Open champion since 1978 are pinned on Ashleigh Barty.
The 24-year-old Queenslander remains to be ranked because the world’s main participant, regardless of not having competed for 11 months earlier than this week’s Yarra Valley Traditional.
Three wins within the tune-up occasion arrange a semi-final towards Serena Williams, with Barty progressing to Sunday’s remaining when the American nice withdrew due to a shoulder damage.
“The rust is at all times there for, I believe, everybody the primary few matches of the season. However definitely, I felt higher and higher every match,” stated 2019 French Open champion Barty.
As ever, the highlight may also fall on Williams, who’s seeded tenth. And not using a main because the 2017 Australian Open title, the 39-year-old is aiming once more to match Australian Margaret Court docket’s all-time main tally of singles victories.
One other American, Sofia Kenin, is anticipated to supply a robust defence of the primary Grand Slam title she received in Melbourne final 12 months, whereas Polish 19-year-old Iga Swiatek goes in as the latest main champion after beating Kenin within the French Open remaining in October.
Whereas there may be little kind information, 2019 champion Naomi Osaka has seemed sharp this week and picked up the place she left off final 12 months when she received the US Open.
A string of damage issues have stalled the progress of Canada’s Bianca Andreescu since her victory on the 2019 US Open, with the 20-year-old hoping to place them behind her when she performs for the primary time in 15 months.
British primary Konta, a Melbourne semi-finalist in 2017, will probably be seeded thirteenth.
Will Nadal win his twenty first main? And may Djokovic be stopped at his second ‘residence’?
Serbia’s defending champion Djokovic headlines the boys’s singles at an occasion the place beating him has confirmed extraordinarily troublesome lately.
The 33-year-old’s triumph final 12 months was a record-extending eighth title at Melbourne Park, the place he has received his previous 14 matches and misplaced simply 4 occasions up to now 10 years.
Consequently, he’s the favorite to win a 18th Grand Slam event at a spot he says “appears like residence”.
“Annually that I come again to the courtroom, it feels even higher. The extra you win clearly on the courtroom, the extra assured you’re feeling coming again to it,” stated the world primary.
Additionally anticipated to problem is Nadal, though he has been nursing a again damage this week.
The Spanish second seed is aiming to maneuver away from nice rival Roger Federer – who’s absent by damage – when it comes to most males’s majors after claiming a record-equalling twentieth title on the French Open in October.
Austrian third seed Dominic Thiem, who misplaced to Djokovic in final 12 months’s remaining, is one other contender. The burden of a primary Grand Slam title is now behind the 27-year-old after profitable the US Open in September.
Russia’s Daniil Medvedev is prone to threaten too, whereas Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas and Germany’s Alexander Zverev try to raised their runs to the semi-finals lately.
British primary Evans, seeded thirtieth, warmed up by reaching the ultimate of the Murray River Open at Melbourne Park.
Six-time champion Federer, 39, misses the event for the primary time in his profession as he continues his restoration from knee surgical procedure.
In the meantime, Andy Murray noticed his plans disrupted after extra rotten luck in what has been a testing few years for the British former world primary.
Murray, a five-time runner-up, was unable to fly out to Melbourne as deliberate after testing optimistic for coronavirus.
After seeing his profession derailed by a severe hip damage, the three-time Grand Slam champion has now missed 9 of the previous 13 main tournaments going again to Wimbledon in 2017.