Coronavirus wreaked havoc with the sporting calendar in 2020, with the European Football Championships, Olympics and many other huge events being cancelled or postponed. Tennis was not immune from this, with Wimbledon cancelled and the French Open being moved back several weeks. One of the only sporting occasions unaffected by Covid-19 was the Australian Open.
Contested at the end of January last year, Novak Djokovic won the Men’s singles, while Sofia Kenin tasted glory in the Women’s. 2021’s iteration of the famous Grand Slam tournament will look very different however, with the impact of the pandemic set to be on full display.
When is the Australian Open Taking Place?
As always, this year’s tournament is kicking off the Grand Slam calendar. Originally scheduled to take place between 18-31 January, it was moved back several weeks because of the pandemic.
Play at Melbourne Park now starts on 8 February with the curtain on the competition coming down on 21 February. It is the 109th edition of the Australian Open and the 53rd of the ‘Open Era’.
How is the Tournament Structured?
For the time ever, qualifying for the tournament took place outside of Australia. These matches were instead contested in Doha and Dubai and returned 16 qualifiers. These 16 combined with eight wildcards and 104 top ranked players to create a pool of 128 players.
In both the men’s and women’s tournaments, these players are then drawn against each other and compete in straight knockout matches until only one winner remains. Men’s games are best of five sets, while women are best of three. Doubles include half the field, with 64 pairings competing.
What Coronavirus Safety Measures are Being Put in Place?
This year’s tournament was embroiled in controversy before it had even begun. After it emerged that some players had travelled to Melbourne on non-Covid secure charter flights, the state government imposed a strict 14-day hotel quarantine on anyone suspected to have the virus. Perhaps they have been passing the time by loading up the 777 Casino app? This has prevented some players — including world number one Novak Djokovic from training.
It is not just the players being affected by the pandemic either. In the past fans have been able to amble around Melbourne Park freely, taking in as many courts as they like. This year, the Park has been split into three, fully ticketed zones to aid with contact tracing. Overall capacity has also been greatly reduced.
Who are the Favourites?
Because of many players being barred from a proper warm up, the field is open. Saying that, it is hard to look past Djokovic, who has won a record eight championships. His chances have been strengthened by Roger Federer pulling out of the tournament due to family issues as well.
The women’s tournament is harder to predict as there has been a different winner in each of the last five tournaments. Last year’s winner, Kenin, will be desperate to retain her title but world number one Ashleigh Barty, as well as Naomi Osaka and several others, will provide a tough test.