Novak Djokovic will be looking to defend his title as the Australian Open, the most ambitious sporting event since the COVID-19 pandemic began, starts on Monday.
The recent drama surrounding the quarantine situation for arriving players is over. Now the tennis takes centre stage as the first Grand Slam of the year gets underway.
The tournament begins on February 8th, with the final to be played on Sunday February 21st. UK viewers will be able to watch the event live on Eurosport and a one-hour highlights package will be shown on the BBC every day from the fourth-round stage onwards.
Djokovic, the top seed and last year’s champion, will begin the tournament against Jeremy Chardy.
If he wins the trophy this year in Melbourne it would bring his number of Australian Open titles to nine, and take his total Grand Slam tally to 18, just two away from Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal’s joint record of 20.
The player who Djokovic defeated in five tight sets in the 2020 Australian Open final, Dominic Thiem, is his projected semi-final opponent in this year’s event.
Thiem is the most recent Grand Slam champion, winning the 2020 US Open in what was the first major tournament won by someone other than Federer, Nadal or Djokovic since 2016.
The Austrian will take on Mikhail Kukushkin in the first round.
Alexander Zverev, who lost to Thiem in last year’s US Open final, will face Marcos Giron in his opening clash. The German is also in Djokovic’s half of the draw as a potential quarter-final opponent.
Rafael Nadal, seeded second, will start his campaign for a second Australian Open title against Laslo Djere.
Back issues led to Nadal pulling out of his ATP Cup matches this week as a precaution in order to be fully fit for the Grand Slam. He has only won this event once despite being in the final on five occasions.
In the Spaniard’s half of the draw are Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev, two Russians who are both serious threats to win the tournament.
Medvedev will meet Vasek Pospisil in the first round and Rublev will face Yannick Hanfmann. The two could meet in the quarterfinals as they did in the 2020 US Open, a match which Medvedev won in straight sets.
Also lurking in Nadal’s side of the draw is Stefanos Tsitsipas, the 22-year-old Greek who has the potential to win numerous major titles in the future. Tsitsipas will take on Gilles Simon in the first round.
Men’s tennis has seen a surge of young talent over recent years including the likes of Medvedev, Rublev and Tsitsipas mentioned above. However, there are plenty more coming through looking to do serious damage in a major tournament for the first time.
20-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime will play against Cedrik-Marcel Stebe in the first round, and will have aspirations to go much further.
Tennis fans have been aware of the Canadian since he was 14-years-old, when he became the youngest player to win a Challenger Tour level match. His potential has always been evident, but 2021 is the year where he could, and should, start making deep runs in major tournaments.
Auger-Aliassime’s potential third round opponent is close friend and fellow countryman Denis Shapovalov. The two young players have already met twice before in a Grand Slam, encounters at the US Open in 2018 and 2019 which were both won by the latter.
Shapovalov, 21, has already made the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam twice in his young career, at the US Open in 2018 and 2020.
He has to take on the highest ranked teenager in the world, Italian Jannik Sinner, in the opening round. This is the most highly anticipated first round matchup of the tournament, as it will be contested between two of the brightest talents in the sport.
An All-Brit Clash
Only two male British players, Dan Evans and Cameron Norrie, will be taking part in the Australian Open this year.
As luck would have it, the two Brits have been drawn against each other in the first round.
Evans described the draw as “unfortunate” for British tennis. He also claimed that, despite being higher ranked than his compatriot, he will be the underdog in the match, as Norrie defeated him in their previous encounter at the first edition of the Battle of the Brits events.
Projected last 16 ties:
Novak Djokovic vs Milos Raonic
Gael Monfils vs Alexander Zverev
Dominic Thiem vs Pablo Carreno Busta
Denis Shapovalov vs Diego Schwartzman
Andrey Rublev vs Roberto Bautista Agut
David Goffin vs Daniil Medvedev
Stefanos Tsitsipas vs Matteo Berrettini
Fabio Fognini vs Rafael Nadal
Winner Prediction: Stefanos Tsitsipas