It is here, we didn’t know if we would get here but the first major of 2021 is set to begin at Melbourne Park. Despite there being smaller crowds this year it will still be a memorable event and one to learn from for fans and countries around the world suffering from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Who are genuine contenders?
On the men’s side of the draw you would probably say four the but someone has to play devils advocate and I cannot see Rafael Nadal being in that shortlist of Djokovic, Thiem and Medvedev.
Nadal was spectator throughout the week at the ATP Cup with a back problem so the question is how fit is he? It has been widely spoken he has a favourable draw but if I looked at a draw having not played since early November and saw potentially Dan Evans, Victor Troicki, and Fognini/De Minaur all before the final eight I would be slightly worried.
I do think Djokovic and Medvedev are in very good form coming into this. Dominic Thiem I wasn’t blown away by at the ATP Cup, I did think the intensity was missing in his game and not having Nicolas Massu here will be a big loss to how he has played over the last couple of years.
On the women’s side it is a tough pick. I would say there are four or five genuine contenders.
It would be silly to rule out Serena Williams as well as Naomi Osaka and Victoria Azarenka. Withdrawing from their warm-up events in Melbourne in my opinion has no baring on their Australian Open campaigns they just want to be rested and ready and the break in place hampered that.
Three contenders but two other names I would throw into the hat are Ash Barty and Garbine Muguruza with both especially Garbine looking very strong in the warm-up. One player I would love to see lift the title but seems bothered by a back injury is Simona Halep who struggled a few days ago against Alexandrova.
Who to watch out for?
There will be two debutants in the mens draw, Carlos Alcaraz the Spanish teenager who has rocketed up the rankings these last twelve months and Botic van de Zandschulp who also came through qualifying. It is a great story for both and one debutant will be into round two. Botic is 25, he’s been mostly on the ITF tour for years and then in Australian Open qualifying stunned us all with a strong comeback win over Lorenzo Musetti and backed it up with a run to the final eight and pushing Khachanov in a Melbourne warm-up.
Australian wildcards Daria Gavrilova, Thanasi Kokkinakis, Alexei Popyrin and Alex Bolt amongst others will be hoping for a good run and for the home crowd to get behind them in their opening matches.
Andy Murray is obviously in Italy and Kyle Edmund is injured but the Brits are still in strong numbers down at Melbourne Park.
Katie Boulter who is using her protected ranking and beat Coco Gauff in the week will face Daria Kasatkina in round one. Jo Konta is the highest ranked Brit in Melbourne and faces a tough opener against 20 year old qualifier Kaja Juvan.
Heather Watson will be up against Krystina Pliskova and just below them in the draw there is a first time appearance for qualifier Francesca Jones in a major up against Shelby Rogers.
With two out it does only leave two British male players in the draw but we do have a guarantee someone will be in the second round. Dan Evans and Cam Norrie are the two Brits and they will face each other in round one and could meet Rafael Nadal in round three.
Round One Battle
There are plenty of interesting opening battles across both draws which could cause some upsets:
Grigor Dimitrov vs Marin Cilic
Kei Nishikori vs Pablo Carreno Busta
Denis Shapovalov vs Jannik Sinner
Kevin Anderson vs Matteo Berrettini
Bianca Andreescu vs Michaela Buzarnescua
Ons Jabeur vs Andrea Petkovic
Laura Siegemund vs Serena Williams
Jessica Pegula vs Victoria Azarenka