If you thought that last year’s Slams at Flushing Meadows and Roland Garros were badly affected by Covid, they were nothing compared to the issues currently being faced by organisers of the Australian Open.
Since tennis downed their collective tools in November at the end of a start-stop season, the major concern has been whether the Melbourne tournament would even take place at all.
Yet somehow, more than 300 players will have made it to the first Grand Slam tournament of 2021, which starts on Monday, February 8th.
It was originally due to begin in mid-January but had to be put back to allow travelling players to undergo a period of isolation, as laid down by the Australian Government.
Both the ATP and WTA quickly arranged a handful of pre-Slam events, with qualifying for the Open taking place in the Middle East.
A number of plane loads of competitors were struck down by positive Covid-19 tests, which further complicated proceedings and left many kicking their heels in hotel rooms around Australia.
Yet the show goes on, although many will start the tournament with less constructive practice than normal, and few competitive matches under their belt.
Most will be undercooked, increasing the chances of a greater number of shock results – particularly in rounds one and two.
The Big Three
Novak Djokovic is top seed in the men’s singles, as well as defending champion.
The Serb, who rightfully believes he should be held in the same high esteem as both Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal, suffered serious setbacks during the last two Slams of 2020.
At the US Open, the 33-year-old was disqualified after inadvertently hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball, following a surge of annoyance.
A few weeks later he suffered a rare straight-sets defeat at the hands of a fiercely-determined and inspired Nadal, in the final of the French Open.
Djokovic won just seven games in all, his worst-ever showing in the final of a Slam – and he’s played 27 of them, winning 17.
He certainly looked shaken by the experience at the end. But while Nadal is King of Clay, and Federer holds the record on grass, Novak always shines in Melbourne and will start the tournament as the man to beat.
Nadal is back in Australia keen to claim the only Slam he has won just once. He currently stands level with Federer on 20-major titles apiece.
Federer is unable to play in Australia having not had enough time to prepare for this event, following two knee operations last year.
The Swiss star, who turns 40 in August, says Wimbledon and the Tokyo Olympics are his main targets for 2021.
Check out the latest men’s singles betting for the forthcoming Australian Open
Best of the rest:
Dominic Thiem: With Nadal and Federer absent, and Djokovic defaulted, the 27-year-old Austrian took advantage of the void to claim his maiden Slam in New York. He is the current world No 3 and the beaten finalist from Melbourne last year. Although clay is probably his favourite surface, he has enjoyed plenty of success on hard court.
Daniil Medvedev: A real threat in Melbourne where he will celebrate his 25th birthday during the first week of the tournament. Hard court is certainly his best surface, having lost the US Open final over five sets to Nadal in 2019, as well as reaching the last four in New York 12 months later. He ended 2020 on a high by winning the ATP Tour finals in London.
Alexander Zverev: Runner-up to Thiem at last September’s US Open where he threw away a two-set advantage. Was a semi-finalist in Melbourne last year.
Stefanos Tsitsipas: A two-time Slam semi-finalist and winner of the ATP Tour finals in 2019. The 22-year-old took Djokovic to five sets in Paris during October’s French Open. Maybe his time has arrived to become a Slam champion?
Click here to view 10-year form at Australian Open
Twitter: Andy Swales@GolfStatsAlive