AFTER another long year Down Under, the Australian Open kicks off today in the opening Grand Slam of the tennis year. The biggest controversy happened well before a ball was bounced with world number one and Australian Open record holder Novak Djokovic deported back to Serbia. It means there will be a new reigning champion, but it also brings about plenty of talking points. In the women’s, equal Open record holder Serena Williams will also be missing alongside some serious top-end talent in US Open winner Bianca Andreescu, Czech duo Karolina Pliskova and Karolina Muchova, reigning Australian Open finalist Jennifer Brady, and Roland Garros semi-finalist Nadia Podoroska. Former Top 10 men, Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori will also miss the tournament.
Who assumes favouritism in the men’s draw?
That has to go to Russian and world number two Daniil Medvedev. He is coming off a successful US Open campaign where he stopped Djokovic from gaining a world record 21st Grand Slam, and continued that form throughout the year. Despite a shock loss to Ugo Humbert in his first ATP Cup clash, Medvedev has not missed a beat since, and would be warm favourite for the event.
Can Ash Barty breakthrough for her maiden Australian Open title?
All signs point to the fact she can, but maintaining the intensity she plays with over seven matches is difficult. The criticism of her performances at Melbourne Park are unwarranted considering she has always produced strong runs even if they did not yield her a title. Reigning champion Naomi Osaka is her biggest threat, and it was a nightmare draw to potentially end up clashing in the fourth round.
With Djokovic out, what does that mean for the draw?
It means the top quarter of the draw is Italian Matteo Berrettini‘s to lose. His biggest threat funnily enough might come in the third round where he is in line to take on Spanish young gun Carlos Alcaraz. Outside of the teenage danger, really only the reliable Cameron Norrie and incredibly exciting, but physically-fragile Gael Monfils the other major players. Italian lucky loser Salvatore Caruso was the direct swap for Djokovic.
Which seeds are at the biggest threat of losing in the first round?
From a men’s perspective, Nikoloz Basilashvili would be very nervous having to face British wildcard Andy Murray again. The 21st seeded Georgian lost to Murray in Sydney last week and has drawn him again,. Similarly, 24th seed Daniel Evans has copped former world number seven David Goffin. In the women’s draw, past Australian Open winner and 11th seed Sofia Kenin would be uneasy facing compatriot and Adelaide International 2 winner Madison Keys in the opening round, while reigning US Open winner and 17th seed Emma Raducanu has not been able to click since her title, and she faces another former US Open winner in Sloane Stephens.
Are there any qualifiers likely to make a run similar to Raducanu?
What Raducanu did in Flushing Meadows is a once-in-a-lifetime event, an unprecedented event. However, there are some qualifiers to keep an eye on as threats. Chinese teenager Qinwen Zheng is a powerful player with plenty of upside, and she takes on Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the first round before a likely second round clash with fifth seed Maria Sakkari. In the men’s draw, it might not be the news Australians want to hear, but Liam Broady takes on Nick Kyrgios in the first round fresh off a qualifying win over red-hot Russian Roman Safiullin. In the same quarter of the draw, Tomas Machac is a rising Czech talent who faces Juan Manuel Cerundolo in the opening round.
Men’s: Matteo Berrettini to benefit from the easy first five matches and be fresh for the semis
Women’s: Ash Barty to finally breakthrough for a home Grand Slam win