|Venue: Melbourne Park Dates: 8-21 February|
|Protection: Pay attention 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 beneath strict coronavirus restrictions, there may be some gentle reduction 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 traditional 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 lads’s discipline.
One other all-time nice, Serena Williams, headlines the ladies’s match. The American launches one other try to land that elusive, record-equalling twenty fourth Grand Slam singles title.
From a British perspective, there isn’t any Andy Murray, with Johanna Konta and Dan Evans main the nation’s hopes.
However it’s a match 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 assist workers flying in from abroad.
“Whether or not or not it is the correct 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 feel sport is crucial for us. Particularly with tennis having such a wealthy tradition in Australia, I feel we virtually want it in a way.
“I feel so long as everybody follows the protocols then it is OK. All of us want to remain the course with every little thing to ensure it does not take off once more, as a result of the truth is it is killing individuals and it is not a sport.”
Is it a good competitors?
To ensure that the match 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 may solely depart their room for 5 hours every day.
Nonetheless, stricter restrictions had been imposed on 72 gamers – together with British quantity two Heather Watson – after optimistic Covid-19 instances had been discovered on three of the constitution flights certain for the match.
These gamers had 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.
To be able 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 laborious quarantine.
There was additional disruption this week when 160 gamers had been informed to isolate, pending a unfavorable coronavirus take a look at, after a safety guard on the resort the place they had been quarantined examined optimistic.
“Everybody is basically enjoying it by ear. No one actually is aware of who’s in kind and who 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 in regards to 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 had been solely allowed out of their rooms for 5 hours as per the quarantine guidelines, there was bristling at a perceived preferential remedy 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 may very well be an enormous distinction between these gamers and the remainder of the group,” he added.
Australian Open match director Craig Tiley stated the highest gamers had been despatched to Adelaide to make sure organisers didn’t exceed the restrict set by the authorities for individuals 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 in opposition to Serena Williams, with Barty progressing to Saturday’s remaining when the American nice withdrew due to a shoulder damage.
“The rust is all the time there for, I feel, everybody the primary few matches of the season. However surely, I felt higher and higher every match,” stated 2019 French Open champion Barty.
As ever, the highlight may even fall on Williams, who’s seeded tenth. And not using a main for the reason that 2017 Australian Open title, the 39-year-old is aiming once more to match Australian Margaret Courtroom’s all-time main tally of singles victories.
One other American, Sofia Kenin, is predicted to supply a powerful 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 might Djokovic be stopped at his second ‘residence’?
Serbia’s defending champion Djokovic headlines the lads’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 instances previously 10 years.
Consequently, he’s the favorite to win a 18th Grand Slam match at a spot he says “looks like residence”.
“Annually that I come again to the court docket, it feels even higher. The extra you win clearly on the court docket, the extra assured you are 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 – by way of 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 successful the US Open in September.
Russia’s Daniil Medvedev is more likely 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 semi-finals of the Murray River Open at Melbourne Park.
Six-time champion Federer, 39, misses the match 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 critical hip damage, the three-time Grand Slam champion has now missed 9 of the previous 13 main tournaments going again to Wimbledon in 2017.