The year's first major is upon and leading into the tournament all the talk has been about Novak Djokovic and whether he will get to chase for a tenth title and 21st major. Our guy down under is Craig Gabriel and he previews the Australian Open.

 

The Australian Open was dubbed the “happy Slam” by Roger Federer many years ago. Andy Murray recently regarded it as the most progressive major because every time he returns to Melbourne Park there is something new or major improvements have been made. 

Despite the saga of Novak Djokovic’s participation there is still anticipation while on the something new front, there is a splendid 5,000 seat, partially covered sunken court that will debut this Aussie Open.

This facility is the most modern and most advanced of any of the majors.

The tennis centre in Melbourne is like no other major. It is in the heart of the city, one of the most liveable cities in the world. The other three majors cannot boast such a setting. The US Open site is a minimum 30 minutes from downtown Manhattan and heaven help you time wise if you get caught in traffic. Roland Garros and Wimbledon are in the suburbs of Paris and London respectively; granted lovely suburbs but still not in the city.

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Not only is Melbourne Park in the city but it is in a sporting precinct surrounded by stadia for several other sports. It’s almost like a sports city and it certainly is a hub. Then there are the parks and green areas and to get to the facility it is either a quick tram ride or a glorious walk along the Yarra River. The area epitomises the liveability aspect.

The organisers of the Australian Open, Tennis Australia, have bent over backwards to provide the players with the ability to be ready for the year’s first major. Through these tough times this individual jewel in the Grand Slam crown has been the most accessible and open. That, in itself, is beyond remarkable because through the various stages of the pandemic Melbourne was the most locked down city in the world.

 

With that in mind, the 2022 Australian Open is a celebration and “release” for the people of Melbourne and while it is still an issue to some degree for international travellers to visit the Australian Open, the atmosphere still promises to be tremendous.

The fans in Australia are desperately hoping that a drought will be broken. Back in 1978 Christine O’Neill became the first unseeded woman to win the singles title. Australia has not had a women’s champion since then. World No.1 Ash Barty is the best hope and while it’s no doubt at the forefront of her mind, externally and publicly she continues to keep things low key.

The world No.1 has not got an easy half of the draw because with her is the defending champion Naomi Osaka, gold medallist Belinda Bencic, 2-time Aussie Open winner Vika Azarenka and in-form Paula Badosa. On the other side Aryna Sabalenka with her questionable serve starts against Storm Sanders. In the half are Iga Swiatek and Simona Halep with the highlight match being between Emma Raducanu and just married Sloane Stephens.

 

With no decision on Djokovic’s fate before the draw was made, he was placed in the field and will face his compatriot Miromir Kecmanovic and if the status quo remains, and he is allowed to stay, he should have a reasonable run the first couple of rounds with Gael Monfils the first more prominent name he should come up agaunst.

Alexander Zverev is in that top half along with Rafa Nadal and for local interest Nadal and Thanasi Kokkinakis would be highly sought after second round meeting.

Daniil Medvedev, last year's finalist, will start against Henri Laaksonen and in the second round it is the winner of a qualifier and Nick Kyrgios. Oh boy! Dan Evans and David Goffin square off, for the second straight tournament and second major out of three Andy Murray takes on Nikoloz Basilashvili and John Isner faces a newer face of men’s tennis French born American Maxime Cressy.

So here is out the seeds would look if they all reached the quarters:
MEN
1 Djokovic v 7 Berrettini
3 Zverev v 6 Nadal
8 Ruud v 4 Tsitsipas
5 Rublev v 2 Medvedev
WOMEN
1 Barty v 5 Sakkari
4 Krejcikova v 8 Badosa
6 Kontaveit v 3 Muguruza
7 Swiatek v 2 Sabalenka