When 2020 Australian Open ended in Melbourne on February 2, 2020, with Novak Djokovic crowned for the eighth time, no one saw that just one year later, COVID-19 would have almost nudged tennis [sports] into a tense tie-break.
After 108 editions of the tournament, 52 editions in the Open Era, the first Grand Slam tennis tournament of the year will be scrutinised more by the impact the virus will have on the performance of the players.
After many days of enforced quarantine, many players are just itching for freedom on the courts. A distinct outlook for not training optimally will be injuries, as witnessed in the spate of withdrawals from practice tournaments days before 2021 Australian Open served off.
Williams’ quest for a 24th Grand Slam title
The most noteworthy news item in the tennis kingdom is 23-time Grand Slam winner, Serena Williams, who is chasing a 24th title, that will cement her status as the greatest of all time, although few will argue that she is already the greatest of all time [G.O.A.T].
At 39, with a three-year-old in tow, Williams is supposedly running out of time to beat Margaret Court’s record at the apex of women’s tennis achievements.
Since that 2017 win in Australia, Williams has appeared in four Grand Slam finals and lost all four in straight sets to Angelique Kerber, Naomi Osaka, Simona Halep, and Bianca Andreescu.
Having not played many matches since the lockdown, she withdrew from the semifinal of the Yarra Valley Classic against Ashleigh Barty last week, in what she called a minor injury worry. At 39, we would normally say time is running out, but hey, we are talking about Serena here. For her, time could be said to be frozen and that 24th title will be achieved, whether in Melbourne, London, Paris, or in the US.
Will the rest help the young Turks take over?
Novak Djokovic, 33 is the No.1 player in the world; followed by Rafael Nadal, 34 while Roger Federer, 39, six-time Australian Open champion, will be absent.
The young Turks, led by Stefanos Tsitsipas, 22, and both Alexander Zverev and Andrey Rublev, 22, have been moving close to the legends over the last 12 months even though two of the Grand Slam titles in 2020 were won by Djokovic and Nadal. Wimbledon was cancelled while Dominic Thiem, 27, won his first Grand Slam at the US Open.
One positive for the chasing pack is the absence of Roger Federer and Andy Murray, two of the bigger shots, who will have to be shot down. Federer underwent knee surgeries in 2020, which made him miss the Australian Open for the first time in his career.
While all the players are adequately rested, there is a hint of paranoia as the virus persists but no matter the circumstances, and disregarding a major outbreak amongst the players, the Australian Open will conclude on February 21 with history created-whether it will be a new one or continuing one is what will be answered.
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