Creator: Michel Euler | Credit: AP Copyright: Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved Australian Open

We are less than a week away from the 2021 Australian Open. Just a few months ago, it seemed unlikely that we would even have the event. Although there were a ton of obstacles to get around in the planning of this event, it looks as though we will get to watch the best compete in Australia this year.

We will be missing a few top players in the sport though. Roger Federer is still out after his knee surgery last year and is now hoping to play in this year’s French Open, while Andy Murray tested positive before his scheduled flight to Australia. Murray was then unable to reschedule a flight to Australia that would give him enough time to finish his quarantine before the start of the tournament.

Even with these two big names out of the tournament, the event will still have most of the sports best. Serena Williams will be chasing her 24th Grand Slam, putting her in a tie for first place all time. Rafael Nadal will be looking to take sole possession of first place on the men’s all time Grand Slam list, while Djokovic hopes to close the gap between him and Nadal and Federer.

So, with the Australian Open set to begin this upcoming Monday, let us look at the biggest storylines for the first Major of the 2021 ATP and WTA season.

Nadal vs Djokovic

Creator: Michel Euler | Credit: AP Copyright: Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved Austr
Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, left, and Spain’s Rafael Nadal look at each other as they pose for images prior to the final match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, France, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

This is a particularly important tournament for both Nadal and Djokovic. Nadal sits tied for first with Federer with 20 Major titles. Djokovic is only three behind both of them at 17 Majors. Djokovic’s best Major is the Australian Open, an event he has won eight times, while this is Nadal’s worst Major, winning only once in his career. With a Nadal victory, he would jump ahead of Federer for the most Major titles, something he has never done in his career, and would become the first man to win every Grand Slam tournament at least twice. With a Djokovic win, he would close the gap on both Nadal and Federer and would improve his chances tremendously in his goal of finishing his career with the most Grand Slams.

Returning Champions

There are currently four women on the WTA tour that have won their last Grand Slam match they played coming into the Australian Open. Bianca Andreescu, Naomi Osaka, Iga Swiatek, and Serena Williams.

Andreescu has not played in a Grand Slam since beating Serena Williams in the finals of the 2019 US Open. She has been battling injuries ever since but is still only 20 years old. It was announced yesterday that Andreescu withdrew herself from the Grampians Trophy, a tune up event before the Australian Open. In a statement, Andreescu wrote that it was best for her to train with her team in preparation for next weeks event instead of playing in this week’s tournament. Hopefully Andreescu can stay healthy and we get to see her on the court next week for the first time in over a year.

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Naomi Osaka and Iga Swiatek have won the last two Grand Slams of 2020. It was Osaka who won first in New York, winning the US Open for the second time, and then it was Swiatek with an incredible run at the French Open, winning the tournament without dropping a set. Osaka will be hoping to continue her dominant run as of late, where she has won a Grand Slam in each of the last three years. For Swiatek, she will be trying to prove that the French Open title was no fluke, and that she can compete for multiple Majors.

The last name on this list is Serena Williams. She did win her last match she played in a Grand Slam but was forced to withdraw from that French Open tournament after her first match with an Achilles injury. She said earlier this week that the extra time off, with the Australian Open starting three weeks later than normal, has given her Achilles more time to recover and has made it possible to compete in the first Major of the year. This tournament provides another great opportunity to get to 24 Grand Slams before she retires. Although the competition is getting younger, she has shown that she still has what it takes to win another Major and has another opportunity in Australia to reach the record.

The Fans

The Victorian Government in Australia announced a few days ago that 30,000 fans will be on the Australian Open grounds each day throughout the first eight days, before lowering it to 25,000 for the rest of the tournament. Australia has done an incredible job of slowing down the spread of Covid-19, with daily cases in single digits for the entire country. With this low number of cases and none in Victoria, masks will not be mandatory for fans attending the Australian Open.

The worlds top players are thankful to be able to play in front of large crowds again. In an exhibition match earlier this week, 4,000 fans were in the stands as they watched Serena, Nadal, Osaka, and others compete. After her match against Osaka, Serena Williams talked about what it was like having fans back in the stands again. “We haven’t played in front of a crowd in over a year, so it’s been a really long time… We were so happy just to be here, and now it’s worth it.”

Where and When to Watch

ESPN holds the rights to the Australian Open in the United States. The semifinals and finals will be shown on ESPN, with the rest of the rounds shown on ESPN2. The first-round coverage begins Monday February 8th at 9pm.

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