Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon previews the first Grand Slam of the season.
Against seemingly all odds, the 2021 Australian Open is set to get underway in a few days.
Seriously. Despite the insane quarantine conditions necessary that the tournament organizers and country authorities understandably imposed on anyone arriving in Australia, despite the fact that on the Thursday before the launch of the event they decided to cancel all matches held that day and deemed that a whopping 500 individuals associated with the Australian Open from close or afar might have been exposed to the virus, despite all this, yes, the first Grand Slam of the season is set to get underway shortly.
What was it that we were saying last week? That you merely need one person thinking something is a good idea in a sea of folks thinking it’s a bad idea, for this one awful thing to progressively not feel so bad over time? That once you’ve shown folks you can have tennis matches in the face of just about any situation, then they’ll expect and want you to have matches in the face of just about any situation?
Yeah, we’ve reached this point where we shouldn’t in all likelihood have any matches but we pretend like that’s not the case out of either boredom, convenience, concern for a greater good (read: money) or a mix of all of the above.
In other words, welcome to the 2021 Australian Open.
We’ll meet you in this space every day for daily previews throughout the event but for now, please enjoy the below following draw preview and analysis. Again, here’s the usual disclaimer that we are typically terrible at these previews and that you shouldn’t bet your mortgage money on these choices.
Don’t look now but we think we might be of the opinion that the women’s game has caught up and even surpassed the men’s game. Not only are we seeing veterans still at the top in Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Simona Halep or Karolina Pliskova, they also now have to contend with a handful of few players from the next generation, players who in all likelihood have surpassed them if not their career achievements quite yet but at least their regular results, players like Naomi Osaka and Sofia Kenin.
This main draw is also boosted by the return to action of No. 1 seed Ashleigh Barty, whom we haven’t seen on tour in about a year, and Canadian Bianca Andreescu, whose absence from the WTA has been even longer.
Not for nothing, but we anticipate great things to relative degrees for every single player mentioned above.
Quarterfinals: Karolina Pliskova over Ashleigh Barty; Victoria Azarenka over Sofia Kenin; Naomi Osaka over Bianca Andreescu; Serena Williams over Simona Halep
Semifinals: Karolina Pliskova over Victoria Azarenka; Naomi Osaka over Serena Williams
Final: Naomi Osaka over Karolina Pliskova
Though Roger Federer is missing in action, this is still a pretty loaded main draw and it should make for plenty of fireworks over the next two weeks. Sure, we do foresee a couple of surprises until the quarterfinals but nothing major and nothing that should upend the draw in any meaningful way: after all, we do think the four favourites will be the four left standing in the semifinals.
If that’s the case, two wily veterans who refuse to let go would take on the two youngsters most likely to replace them once they’re gone. By all means, this should be fun.
Quarterfinals: Novak Djokovic over Gael Monfils; Dominic Thiem over Denis Shapovalov; Daniil Medvedev over Roberto Bautista Agut; Rafael Nadal over Stefanos Tsistsipas
Semifinals: Novak Djokovic over Dominic Thiem; Daniil Medvedev over Rafael Nadal
Final: Novak Djokovic over Daniil Medvedev
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG