The first tennis Grand Slam of 2021 will get underway in just a couple of weeks. The Australian Open (8th-21st February) might not be in its usual January spot, but it still feels like it keeps its role as the curtain opener for the season. While it might seem a little strange to see the stands at Melbourne Park not packed to the rafters, the event feels like a chance for tennis to reset with some normalcy after a disrupted and disjointed 2020.
But what are the main stories as we approach the big event in Melbourne? Below we look at what’s making the headlines as tennis’ elite heads down under:
Federer Puts Off Return
It was hoped that Roger Federer would make a long-awaited comeback at the Australian Open. The Swiss legend had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee last February, and he hasn’t been in competitive action since. Federer has judged February as coming too soon for a comeback in a Slam, so has targeted less notable events after the Australian Open to build up his match fitness. While Federer usually keeps tight-lipped about retirement and has made a mockery of those who claim he should hang up his racquet, it is valid to wonder whether he will appear at the Australian Open again.
But Serena Will Have Point to Prove
Speaking of retirement, there was something of a spat between the husband of Serena Williams and 81-year-old former player, Ion Tiriac. Alex Ohanian took to social media to slam Tiriac, who claimed Williams should have the “decency” to retire, given her “age” and “weight”. Tiriac was roundly criticised for the comments. While she hasn’t won a Slam in three years, Williams has been to four Finals and a Semi-Final in that time. The 23-time Grand Slam Winner is 9/1 with MansionBet tennis odds to win her 24th in Melbourne. Only a fool would rule her out of the running.
Francesca Jones’ Story Gives Tennis a Lift
It seems almost redundant to speak of Francesca Jones’ disability, given she smashed her way through the final qualifier for the Australian Open with a superb 6-1 6-0 victory. Nevertheless, Jones, who has ectrodactyly ectodermal dysplasia syndrome (Jones has missing digits on both her hands and feet), has a story worth telling. The 20-year-old Brit has defied the advice of experts throughout her fledgeling career, and she will take a deserved place among tennis’ elite on 8th February. Jones said: “I’m playing to have a positive impact on people who read my story and I hope people can take the positives from it and build on it.”.
Nadal Can Pull Away from Federer
Both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have achieved the incredible feat of winning 20 Grand Slams, with Novak Djokovic three behind on 17. The Serbian is the favourite with bookmakers, of course, but few would dismiss Nadal’s chances even if the Spaniard has often found it tougher in Australia. It’s 12 years since Nadal last won the Australian Open, but the number two seed knows that he can further increase his claims on being the greatest men’s player of all time. That’s up for debate, sure. But the more Slams he adds, the more difficult it is to say that Federer stands alone.
Barty Will Have Home Comforts
It is a safe bet to assume that Ash Barty envisaged winning the Australian Open one day in front of packed stadium of Aussie fans. She might get the first part of her wish this year, as it remains to be seen how many fans the authorities will allow into Melbourne Park. Nevertheless, Barty has the goods to deliver on her home turf and issue in a new era as the best female player on the planet.