March 1, 2021

A difficult passage to Melbourne

A difficult passage to Melbourne

Serena Williams withdrew from a warm-up event after setting up semifinal tie with world No 1 Ashleigh Barty in the buildup to Australian<br />Open yesterday. Photo:Dailymail.co.uk

The 2020 tennis season concluded with the US Open, played in a Virtual Bubble for the players and the event marked a change in the world of Sports. The uncertainty about the 2021 Australian Open was heightened when the warm-up tournaments were cancelled.

While the men played exhibition matches, the women battled in Doha, after which they boarded a chartered flight to Australia. On arrival, ten passengers on that fateful flight tested positive for Covid-19 and were placed under treatment while all the others were forced into fourteen-day quarantine. As a result, 72 female players and members of their supporting team could not leave hotel rooms. That was the first drama heralding the showdown in Melbourne Park.

The three record chasers, Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, are leading the pack while Roger Federer is recuperating from knee surgery, with his playing future in doubt. Serena must contend with opposition by Naomi Osaka, Bianca Andreescu Sofia Kenin, Karolina Pliskova, Aryana Sabalenka (winner in Abu Dhabi) and Angelique Kerber.

Djokovic and Nadal have tough hurdles with Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Daniil Medvedev and the ruthless Andre Rublev who capped the 2020 season with five titles.

In this week preceding the flag off on Monday, the men are engaged in the ATP Cup competition, featuring national teams from Australia, Germany, Russia, Spain, France, Argentina and Serbia. The selection of the countries was based on the rankings of the individual players.

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The organisers, Tennis Australia, have spared no detail in instituting measures to insulate players, officials, and workers in Melbourne Park, from the Covid-19 Pandemic.

While Djokovic initially berated the strict quarantine of 72 players and others, Serena and Naomi took it all with equanimity.

Rafael Nadal was his philosophical self in thanking the organizers for staging the event, “when many people all over the world are coping with tragedies.”

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