Australian Open Draws Are Out, Let’s Play!

Australian Open 2021 Draws (photo: Tennis Australia)

WASHINGTON, February 5, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

The 2021 Australian Open draws are out, the countdown to Monday’s opening day is underway. Now, let the matches begin!

The first major of the 2021 season, whose start date was pushed back by three weeks due to the global coronavirus pandemic – plus strict Australian government rules put in place to curb its spread, which delayed the arrival of players in Melbourne until mid-January – has plenty of interesting storylines. Among them: Can eight-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic, who has won each of the past two men’s titles, achieve a three-peat that would move him one career Grand Slam title closer to the 20 held by both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal? Was Sofia Kenin‘s 2020 AO title success a fluke or the start of something big for the World No. 4?

Also, what about Rafa? Can he win a 21st Grand Slam and move ahead of Federer? What about Serena Williams as she continues her quest for a career 24th major that would tie her with Margaret Court, the namesake of one of Melbourne Park’s show courts? How about the return of Bianca Andreescu, who stunned everyone when she beat Serena to win the 2019 US Open and is coming back from an injury sabbatical? Finally, how about Aussie favorite and women’s World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty?

First, Djokovic’s road to the 2021 title begins with a first-round match against France’s Jeremy Chardy. It likely would continue with a second-round encounter against American Frances Tiafoe. Then, Djokovic could meet 27th-ranked Taylor Fritz of the United States in the third round, World No. 14 Milos Raonic in the round of 16, No. 6 Alexander Zverev in the quarterfinals and No. 3 Dominic Thiem in the semifinals. Finally, imagine a Djokovic title match against Nadal a fortnight from now with the winner awarded the Norman Brookes Challenger Cup.

As for Nadal, a five-time AO finalist who won the title in 2009, he begins his journey against Laslo Djere of Serbia. Then, he could meet in order: qualifier Michael Mmoh of the United States in the second round, No. 30 Dan Evans of Great Britain in round three, No. 16 Fabio Fognini in the round of 16, No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarterfinals and No. 4 Daniil Medvedev in the semifinals. Indeed, a Nadal-Djokovic final would whet everyone’s appetite.

“Three, four, five of us have been fortunate to dominate the slams in the last 15 years,” said Djokovic earlier this week in Melbourne, where he’s been competing in the ATP Cup representing Serbia.

“It’s great for the sport that we have new Grand Slam champions. We have new successful young players that are showing the courage and boldness, coming into the biggest stadiums in sport, willing to take on the biggest challenge in facing especially the three of us (Djokovic, Nadal and Federer), fighting for the biggest title.”

Djokovic points to the next generation of men’s players who are ready to step up: Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, Denis Shapovalov and Matteo Berrettini, for instance.

“There are a few of them that are very close,” he said. “They have a huge potential. Obviously, there’s still a lot of time ahead of them. One of them is obviously Tsitsipas. You have Zverev, [Denis] Shapovalov as well. Already established Top-10 players, next to Dominic [Thiem], of course. You have Berrettini, so forth.”

Much focus on Serena Williams’ quest for No. 24

Meanwhile, on the women’s side, all eyes will be focused on Williams as long as she remains in the draw. This will be her 20th Melbourne appearance and she’s lifted the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup seven times. Although Serena hasn’t won a major since capturing Melbourne in 2017 while two months pregnant with her daughter Olympia, she reached two finals at Wimbledon and two at the US Open, all during the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

Williams’ path to a 24th major starts with a first-round match against Laura Siegemund of Germany, continues with a second-round meeting against Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania, and American Alison Riske in the third round. Then, things get interesting as she could meet World No. 7 Aryna Sabalenka in the round of 16, either reigning French Open champion Iga Swiatek or defending Wimbledon champion and World No. 2 Simona Halep in the quarterfinals, and either current US Open champion and World No. 3 Naomi Osaka (who won the 2019 Australian Open), Garbiñe Muguruza, Andreescu or Petra Kvitova in the semifinals. If Serena reaches the final, how about a title match against either Barty, Kenin, Karolina Pliskova or Victoria Azarenka? Stay tuned.

“Hopefully, this is like a new year where everything will be different,” said Williams during one of her Melbourne Summer Series press conferences this week.

Barty, for one, would be gobsmacked to play in her home country’s Grand Slam final. “I think I’d be extremely fortunate to be in the position to be in another Grand Slam final,” the 2019 Roland Garros champion said this week. “That’s what we work for. That’s why we do all the work through the preseason, eat all of our green beans, and then do all the right things to try and get to that point where we have an opportunity to win big titles and win Grand Slams.”

Finally, there will be a lot of attention focused of the return of Andreescu, who hasn’t played since the fall of 2019, when she suffered a meniscus tear of her left knee at the WTA season-ending finals in Shenzhen. Subsequently, she missed all of 2020 with injuries. Now that she’s back, what does she think her chances for success during the Melbourne fortnight are?

“I still have the same goals, same mindset,” Andreescu said during her Friday press conference. “It’s just different. I haven’t played in a while, so I don’t really have much expectations going on the court.”

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