First Serve – The Corona-Coaster Makes Its Presence Felt

Positive Tests and Injuries

Several players now and coaching staff at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi having tested positive for Covid-19 (Emma Raducanu prior to the event, Ons Jabeur who was Raducanu’s replacement, Belinda Bencic, Rafael Nadal and his coach Carlos Moya, Denis Shapovalov and now Andrey Rublev).

Emma Raducanu tested positive for Covid-19 and withdrew from Mubadala exhibition event.

Dominic Thiem, Karolina Pliskova, Roger Federer, Serena Williams and Stan Wawrinka are amongst the big names who are out with injury, which feels almost old-fashioned in the new world of chaos.

The season starts on the first day of the year with the ATP Cup, and right now the Russian Tennis Federation (catchy title, all due to the country still paying for its historical doping sins) is all conquering – scooping the ATP Cup, Billie Jean King Cup and the Davis Cup Finals.

Daniil Medvedev was among the stars to hit the practice court at the ATP Cup.

Daniil Medvedev is emerging as a worthy successor to the Big Three, Four or Five, depending on your point of view! But the all-conquering side might be without Rublev as he undergoes his isolation for a late positive testing and may miss the season opener.

There will be no triumphant return to the court on New Year’s Day either for Novak Djokovic – he has now confirmed that he will not be heading up Team Serbia when the new season gets underway, and we are still none the wiser if he has been vaccinated or has applied and been given a medical exemption to entre Australia.

Even those players that have been vaccinated can find themselves turned away at the door – consider the case of Natalia Vikhlyantseva who was vaccinated with the Russian Sputnik V vaccine – which is not recognised by the Australian authorities. We’ll see as the weeks progress if this will affect more of the Russian players.

People are already starting to arrive though – with defending women’s champion Naomi Osaka arriving in Melbourne already to prepare.

Rejoice! A New Tennis Season

Once we get over the uncertainty of who will make it into the main draw, we need to consider ourselves fortunate that we are at least able to have some semblance of a tennis tour again.

The Australian Summer of Sport looks set to be rather good, and Adelaide is really the pick of the crop of the first week of tournaments, with the rest of the field being spread around the creatively titled Melbourne 1 and Melbourne 2.

The big names on the men’s side will be in the ATP Cup, and there are two ways of looking at it.

  1. Oh look, we start and end the year with the best teams in men’s tennis battling it out for glory
  2. We have the ridiculous situation of two men’s team events within weeks of each other.

Either way, here we are but Covid-19 positives not-withstanding, there should be some decent matches, supplemented with a couple of tournaments (Adelaide 1 and Melbourne) which should give us an early view into post-winter-training form.

What does this all mean for the Australian Open?

Often regarded as the red-headed wild-child of the Slams, the opening Slam can throw up some surprising wins. And let’s be honest – as it looks more like defending champion Djokovic will not be on hand to mark what has become his territory, will be finally see a shift t the top for the ATP?

Serbian media are reporting that Novak Djokovic is ‘to skip Australian Open after medical exemption denied’.

We have to discard Djokovic and look really to two names: Medvedev and Alexander Zverev. Although with the continuing investigation into the domestic violence allegations being made against him, what would be a better look for the Happy Slam?

Ashleigh Barty has already hit on Rod Laver Arena ahead of the 2022 Australian Open as the home favourite prepares in Melbourne.

The women’s side, as always is wide open, but they would love nothing more than a home win for Ashleigh Barty with Naomi Osaka second favourite to make it a fifth Slam title.