While the ‘will he or won’t he?’ question remains for No. 1 Novak Djokovic and his participation in the Australian Open, the rest of the tennis world returns to work this week to prepare for the season’s first major beginning on January 17 at Melbourne Park.
The men’s ATP Cup team event has been on since the weekend in Sydney, and there are three tune-up events being played this week in Melbourne as part of Tennis Australia’s ‘Summer Set’ of tournaments - two WTA tournaments and one ATP.
In Adelaide, there is a joint ATP and WTA tournament this week. Next week, both Adelaide and Sydney will hold joint ATP-WTA tournaments.
Djokovic is still nowhere to be seen.
Australian Open chief executive Craig Tiley says there is “quite a bit to play out” before nine-time champion Djokovic shows up to play in Australia.
The top-ranked player has continually refused to reveal if he is vaccinated against COVID-19, a requirement to play in Melbourne. But there has been speculation Djokovic could apply for a medical exemption to play as he eyes a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam singles title. He is tied with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal with 20. Djokovic withdrew from Serbia’s ATP Cup team last week.
“We’ve still got a few charter flights coming in until the end of this week and then all the players will be here,” Tiley said. “As far as the status relates to Novak, I think we’ll have a much clearer picture in the coming days otherwise it’s getting pretty late to show up and play the Australian Open. There’s quite a bit to play out and I think it will play out in the coming days.”
Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep will headline the WTA tournament in Melbourne this week while Nadal, recovering from COVID-19, is the top seed at the ATP event at Melbourne Park. Also in the ATP tournament is second-seeded Reilly Opelka, Nick Kyrgios and Grigor Dimitrov.
In Adelaide, top-ranked and Wimbledon champion Ash Barty is the headliner, joined by Coco Gauff, Iga Swiatek and Aryna Sabalenka. Gael Monfils is the No. 1 seed at the Adelaide ATP tournament, while Karen Khachanov is seeded second.
At the Adelaide WTA event Monday, third-seeded Maria Sakkari beat Tamara Zidansek 6-2, 0-6, 6-4 in the opening round of the 32-draw tournament and Ajla Tomljanovic beat Heather Watson 6-4 7-6.
Barty, who has a first-round bye, hasn’t played a tournament since losing in the third at the US Open in early September.
“In the next couple weeks I’ll have to be patient with myself, it has been awhile since I’ve played a competitive match,” Barty said Monday. “But I feel good. I feel ready. Now it’s just about going out there and enjoying it.”
US Open champion Emma Raducanu withdrew from the Melbourne tournament, having just come out of isolation after testing positive for COVID-19.
Raducanu, who became the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam tournament when she won at Flushing Meadows in September, had pulled out of an Abu Dhabi tournament in late December after contracting the virus.
Two of the biggest names in tennis won’t be playing the Australian Open. Federer is still recovering from right knee surgery. Serena Williams’ Grand Slam title drought will officially reach five years after the 23-time major champion announced her withdrawal from the Australian Open last month due to an ongoing hamstring injury. It means she’ll miss another chance to tie Margaret Court’s all-time Grand Slam record.
Williams’ 23rd major singles title - and most recent - came at the Australian Open in 2017.
And for the first time since 1997, no Williams sister will be in action at Melbourne Park. Venus Williams, 41, hasn’t played since August because of a leg injury.