The head of Tennis Australia says there remains ‘unanswered questions’ over the new Covid-19 variant amid concerns that it could derail plans recently set out for the start of the 2022 season.
Craig Tiley has spoken to government officials about the Omicron variant which has recently been classed by the World Health Organisation as ‘a variant of concern.’ The global body warned on Monday there is a ‘high risk’ of it spreading globally. However, research is still ongoing and one of those who discovered Omicron in South Africa says it is not clear if it causes a more severe disease. Angelique Coetzee, who is the chair of the South African Medical Association, told AFP that dozens of her patients suspected of having the new variant only experienced mild symptoms and recovered fully without hospitalization.
However, it is the uncertainty which is posing a threat to Tennis Australia and their plans to stage a total of 17 tournaments during January across various states. On Monday the country paused the next phrase of their border reopening which was set to take place on December 1st. However, they are not closing their borders completely which is what Japan and Israel have done.
“We knew that when we announced the event there would be some more challenges just because of the nature of the world we have been living in for the last two years,“ Tiley told The Sydney Morning Herald on Sunday. “But we are still waiting. I have been talking with the government over night (Saturday) and this morning. There are a lot of unanswered questions around this and I think in the next 14 days we will get some more clarity. But at this point the plans are going ahead as they are.”
As it currently stands the first charter flight of players is set to arrive in Australia between December 27-28. There will be a total of 20 charter flights operating. All players are required to take a PCR test before departing and then another test upon arrival in the country.
Victoria, which is the state where the Australian Open is held in, has updated their COVID-19 policy. According to The Age newspaper, anybody who tests positive for the Omicron variant or has been in close contact with somebody who has will be required to enter a 14-day quarantine regardless of their vaccination status. Although these rules may change nearer to the Grand Slam starting depending on research into the strain.
“We will continue to take sensible and responsive evidence based action, led by medical experts. This will ensure we can open safely, and stay safely open as we learn to live with the virus.” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement.
Besides the national government, Tennis Australia is also faced with the tough task of monitoring state rules which differ around the country whilst operating their tournaments. For example the Australian Open stance on vaccination is due to a health mandate which has been enforced by the Victorian Premier. If the tournament took place in another region, the rules might have differed.
As of November 29th Australia has recorded five cases of the Omicron variant.
Australian Open Daily Preview: Friday Provides Many Excellent Third Round Matchups
Seeded players begin to collide in the draws on Friday, making for some stellar contests throughout the day. Major champions Rafael Nadal, Naomi Osaka, Ash Barty, and Victoria Azarenka all face significant opposition, while some of the ATP’s most impressive young stars will square off to secure their spots in the round of 16.
Normally this preview will highlight the five most intriguing matchups, while outlining the other notable matches on the schedule. But with so many great matchups on Day 5, that number has been expanded to six. Friday’s play will begin at 11:00am local time.
Elina Svitolina (15) vs. Victoria Azarenka (24) – 11:00am on Rod Laver Arena
Azarenka has been dominant through two rounds, losing only seven games. She’s keeping her momentum going after her great run at Indian Wells in October. By contrast, Svitolina came into this tournament on a four-match losing streak, dating back to a dismal 6-1, 6-1 loss at the hands of Jessica Pegula at Indian Wells. And this rivalry has been completely one-sided to date. Azarenka leads 4-0, and that includes a straight-set victory last March in Doha. With warm temperatures forecast for Friday, conditions will be quick, which should reward the dictating style of Azarenka. I like Vika’s chances to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open for the first time in six years.
Matteo Berrettini (7) vs. Carlos Alcaraz (31) – Third on Rod Laver Arena
This should be a lot of fun, with two of the ATP’s heaviest hitters trading blows. They first played just a few months ago in Vienna, in an extremely tight match which Alcaraz claimed in a third set tiebreak. Berrettini is yet to play his best tennis this month. Coming off an oblique injury that forced him out of the ATP Finals, Matteo went only 1-2 at the ATP Cup, and needed four sets to prevail in both of his first two rounds. Meanwhile, Alcaraz has looked phenomenal, not dropping a set at the next Major after his thrilling Grand Slam breakthrough in New York. Berrettini will need a high percentage of first serves, and a high number of winners off his blistering forehand. But over the course of five sets, a fully-fit Alcaraz should be able to wear down the Italian and advance.
Denis Shapovalov (14) vs. Reilly Opelka (23) – Third on Margaret Court Arena
Shapovalov has struggled his way through two rounds, playing a total of nine sets. On Wednesday, he spent nearly four-and-a-half hours on court against Soon Woo Kwon. Opelka has required three less sets, and four less hours, to reach the third round. This will be the first main draw meeting between the left-handed Canadian and the big-serving American. Reilly seems primed for a deep run at a Major. Last season, he reached two Masters 1000 semifinals, and made his first appearance in the fourth round of a Slam in New York. If he can push several sets to a tiebreak, he has a strong chance to prevail, especially if Denis is feeling physically drained. But considering Shapovalov’s returning prowess, Denis remains the favorite. He’s a great shot-maker, and enjoys having a target to aim for. Opelka will likely provide him with plenty of targets, as he came to net 30 times during his three-set win on Wednesday.
Ash Barty (1) vs. Camila Giorgi (30) – 7:00pm on Rod Laver Arena
Barty’s victories thus far have been comprehensive, allowing her opposition a total of three games through four sets, and spending less than an hour on court in each match. Giorgi has been impressive as well, having yet to drop a set. And it was only five months ago, on this same surface, when Camila earned the biggest title of her career, at the WTA 1000 event in Canada. She has made great strides in better controlling her aggression, and choosing when to go for a winner. But she is 0-3 against Barty, with their most recent encounter occurring four years ago at this event. Giorgi is capable of beating almost anyone on almost any day, but Ash’s well-rounded game makes her a significant favorite.
Naomi Osaka (4) vs. Amanda Anisimova – 7:00pm on Margaret Court Arena
Both women are undefeated to start off 2022. Osaka won three matches in a tune-up event on these same grounds before withdrawing, while Anisimova won a tune-up event at Melbourne Park. With Darren Cahill added to her coaching team, Amanda has rediscovered the form that made her a French Open semifinalist in 2019. Her backhand is formidable, yet overall her groundstrokes and serve don’t quite compare to that of Osaka’s. Naomi has appeared rather confident on court despite taking a near-four-month break from competition to end 2021. But a matchup against an in-form player of Amanda’s caliber is a dangerous draw for Osaka, who has only played five matches since early September.
Rafael Nadal (6) vs. Karen Khachanov (28) – Last on Rod Laver Arena
Nadal has also only played five matches since last summer, when he underwent a procedure on his foot. And he’s often been tested by Khachanov, most notably at the 2018 US Open, when they played a high-quality four-setter which lasted well over four hours. Out of their last 10 sets played, six of those sets have been decided by tiebreaks, and two of the others ended with a score of 7-5. Yet, Rafa has managed to prevail all seven times they’ve met, with five of those occasions coming on hard courts. The big-swinging Russian possesses a style which has often flustered Nadal throughout his career, but is yet to maintain a high enough level to secure more than one set in a match. And all six of those aforementioned tiebreaks have gone the way of Rafa. Despite Nadal not being fully match tough, there’s not much evidence to support a probable outcome other than an eighth victory for the 20-time Major champion.
Other Notable Matches on Friday:
Barbora Krejcikova (4) vs. Jelena Ostapenko (26) – It’s a matchup of surprising Roland Garros champions. In Dubai last March, Krejcikova allowed Ostapenko only four games.
Paula Badosa (8) vs. Marta Kostyuk – When asked about facing Kostyuk after her second round win, Badosa stated “When they ask me who can be the next star, I always say Marta.” Kostyuk took out Sara Sorribes Tormo on Wednesday, while Badosa has lost only seven games through four sets.
Maria Sakkari (5) vs. Veronika Kudermetova (28) – Neither woman has lost a set yet. Last summer in Canada, they participated in an extended contest, with Sakkari prevailing 6-4 in the third.
Cristian Garin (16) vs. Gael Monfils (17) – Through two rounds, Garin has played 10 sets and spent over nine hours on court, while Monfils has easily claimed all six sets he’s played, and spent only three hours on court. Two years ago at the inaugural ATP CUP, Monfils defeated Garin in straight sets.
Pablo Carreno Busta (19) vs. Sebastian Korda – Both men prevailed after grueling five-set battles on Wednesday. After testing positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in Australia, and barely practicing leading into this event, what will Korda have left after a nearly five-hour second round match?
Sascha Zverev (3) vs. Radu Albot (Q) – Zverev is yet to drop a set, and Albot is yet to face a player ranked inside the top 100. Though three years ago at the US Open, Radu pushed Sascha to five sets.
Friday’s full Order of Play is here.
Australian Open Daily Preview: Daniil Medvedev Plays Nick Kyrgios in the Second Round
Two players who have been labeled as tennis’ bad boys will meet on Thursday in Melbourne. But it is unfair to lump them together. One is the reigning US Open champion and on the brink of becoming the No.1 player in the world. The other hasn’t reached a Major quarterfinal in seven years, and is currently ranked outside the top 100. However, Nick Kyrgios often plays his best tennis at his home country’s biggest tournament. And he has a history of upsetting top players like Daniil Medvedev.
Each day this preview will highlight the five most intriguing matchups, while outlining the other notable matches on the schedule. Thursday’s play will begin at 11:00am local time.
Garbine Muguruza (3) vs. Alize Cornet – 11:00am on Rod Laver Arena
Nearly five years after her last Major title, is Muguruza ready to win another? She’s coming off the third biggest title of her career at the WTA Finals, and was the runner-up in Melbourne two years ago. But Cornet is far from an easy out. The Frenchwoman has scored many upsets over top players throughout her career, most notably over Serena Williams at Wimbledon in 2014. And last June on grass in Berlin, Cornet defeated Muguruza in a third set tiebreak. However, Muguruza’s dictating power should allow her to avenge that loss on Thursday.
Anett Kontaveit (6) vs. Clara Tauson – 11:00am on Margaret Court Arena
Since hiring Dmitry Tursonov as her coach, Kontaveit has accumulated an astounding record of 33-5. During that span, she’s earned four titles, reached the championship match at the WTA Finals, and nearly won another event last week in Sydney, losing to Barbora Krejcikova 14-12 in a third set tiebreak. But Tauson could provide some legitimate resistance. The 19-year-old from Denmark has been lauded by many as a future top player, and she advanced to three finals at multiple levels to close out 2021. Three years ago, Clara was a junior champion in Melbourne. Their first career meeting could be a tight one, though Kontaveit remains the favorite with her punishing groundstrokes and recent form.
Taylor Fritz (20) vs. Frances Tiafoe – Not Before 1:00pm on John Cain Arena
This is a tough second round draw for both Americans, who are not only close friends, but have also been playing some good tennis over the last few months. Fritz reached the semifinals in Indian Wells, the final in St. Petersburg, and the quarters in Bercy. And to start off 2022, he scored upset wins over Cam Norrie and Felix Auger-Aliassime at the ATP Cup. Tiafoe scored a thrilling victory over Andrey Rublev at the US Open, and reached the final in Vienna. However, Frances went 0-2 to begin the year, and required five sets to advance beyond the 198th-ranked player in the world on Tuesday. With Fritz taking their last two encounters, I like his chances of making it three in a row.
Felix Auger-Aliassime (9) vs. Alejandro Davidovich Fokina – Third on Kia Arena
Based on his ATP Cup triumph, and reaching new heights at the last two Majors, much is expected of the 21-year-old Canadian. But after securing the first set in his opening round, Felix would promptly drop seven straight games, complicating matters to where he was forced to come back from a two-sets-to-one deficit. Falling behind against the 22-year-old Spaniard would be even more dangerous. Alejandro easily advanced in straight sets on Tuesday, and debuted inside the top 32 last year thanks to some strong results on both clay and hard courts. In their first career meeting, Auger-Aliassime should still be favored to advance, but not without an extended battle with a player who can often exhaust his opponents with his consistency and endurance.
Daniil Medvedev (2) vs. Nick Kyrgios – 7:00pm on Rod Laver Arena
No one has been playing better on hard courts than Medvedev, who has won 83 of his last 92 matches on this surface. Meanwhile, Kyrgios has only played 16 singles matches in nearly two years, with an 8-8 record. Yet Nick has remained a reliable source of dramatic matches at the Australian Open. A year ago, he overcame Ugo Humbert 6-4 in the fifth. And two years ago, he outlasted Karen Khachanov in fifth-set tiebreak. However, those compelling victories occurred in his favorite slot: the night session on John Cain Arena. This match will be on Rod Laver Arena, where he has not won a match since 2018. And while Kyrgios is 2-0 lifetime against Medvedev, neither of those matches were best-of-five. While I expect Nick will keep this competitive, with thorough inspiration fromd the Australian crowd, Medvedev’s defensive skills will likely prove to be too much.
Other Notable Matches on Thursday:
Aryna Sabalenka (2) vs. Xinyu Wang – Sabalenka overcame her recent service woes to win in three on Tuesday, and thanked Mark Philippoussis for his advice on her serve. Xinyu is a 20-year-old from China who won her first main draw match at a Slam in the first round.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (10) vs. Sam Stosur (WC) – In her last singles event, Stosur delighted the Melbourne crowd on Tuesday by coming back from a set down to earn only her second win at this event since 2015. Pavlyuchenkova has reached the quarterfinals here in three of the last five years, and won her opening round decisively, dropping only three games. Stosur leads their head-to-head 5-4, though they haven’t played in nearly four years.
Stefanos Tsitsipas (4) vs. Sebastian Baez – Tsitsipas appeared unhampered by his recent elbow surgery on Tuesday, easily prevailing in straight sets. Baez is a 21-year-old from Argentina who won a five-setter on the same day.
Andy Murray (WC) vs. Taro Daniel (Q) – What will Murray have left in the tank after his latest grueling contest at a Major? He played for five sets and nearly four hours in the first round. Daniel has won nine straight sets since qualifying began last week, and recently hired Sven Groeneveld as his coach.
Emma Raducanu (17) vs. Danka Kovinic – In the opening round, Raducanu rediscovered some of her magic from New York, taking out Sloane Stephens in three. Kovinic is a 27-year-old from Montenegro who has never been beyond the second round at a Major.
Thursday’s full Order of Play is here.
Australian Open Daily Preview: Olympic Gold Medalists Face Differing Challenges
Six months ago in Tokyo, Sascha Zverev and Belinda Bencic earned the biggest achievements of their young careers: winning an Olympic Gold Medal for their country. Now they have their sights set on claiming their first Major, though neither has a straightforward second round draw.
Wednesday’s schedule also includes top names like Rafael Nadal, Naomi Osaka, Ash Barty, and Daniil Medvedev. However, with all of those stars being strong favorites on Day 3, other matches featuring some of the sport’s most exciting performers may be the day’s most compelling affairs.
Each day this preview will highlight the five most intriguing matchups, while outlining the other notable matches on the schedule. Wednesday’s play will begin at 11:00am local time.
Victoria Azarenka (24) vs. Jil Teichmann – 11:00am on Kia Arena
It was 10 full years ago when Azarenka won her first Major in Australia, a feat she would repeat just 12 months later. Despite reaching three finals in New York, she’s still trying to secure her third Slam title. Injuries sidelined her several times throughout 2021, yet she still put together a strong 28-9 record on the year. Teichmann had a breakout 2021, reaching semifinals in both Adelaide and Duabi to start the year, and upsetting three top 12 players during a run to the final in Cincinnati. But she may be overmatched against an in-form two-time former champion, who dropped only four games in the first round.
Belinda Bencic (22) vs. Amanda Anisimova – Third on Kia Arena
Anisimova was very close to being eliminated from this tournament in the first round. The 20-year-old American was down a set and a break to Arianne Hartono, and a point from going down a double break in the second set, before storming back to win in three. However, that near-defeat is not revealing of her recent form, as she started the season by winning a title on these very grounds. Anisimova has been working with Darren Cahill on a trial basis in Australia, which has already paid dividends. Bencic has continued to play well following her Tokyo triumph, where she won medals in both singles and doubles. Three years ago on grass in Mallorca, Belinda defeated Amanda 6-2, 6-2. Coming off such a close call on Monday, I suspect Anisimova will play freely on Wednesday, and I would not be surprised if she upset the Olympic Gold Medalist. When her groundstrokes are on, especially her backhand, there aren’t many players who can tame Anismova’s aggression.
Carlos Alcaraz (31) vs. Dusan Lajovic – Third on 1573 Arena
Coming off his star-making run in New York, Alcaraz went right back to work in the opening round here, easily prevailing in less than two hours. Lajovic required nearly twice as long to overcome Marton Fucsovics in five. The 31-year-old Serbian advanced to the second week of this event a year ago. However, the rest of his 2021 season didn’t go as well, ending the year with a record of 18-28. And he started 2022 by going 0-3 at the ATP Cup. I expect to see some extra fight out of Dusan during this tournament, as I anticipate many of the Serbian players will be motivated by what occurred over the past two weeks with Novak Djokovic. But taking out one of the sport’s most formidable newcomers, especially when you’re coming off a five-setter, is a tall task.
Sascha Zverev (3) vs. John Millman – Last on Rod Laver Arena
Following his first round victory, Zverev admitted things had not gone to plan, and he had not played his best. Despite that, Sascha still prevailed in straight sets, escaping two tight sets via tiebreaks. He may not be able to afford such dips in his level against one of Australia’s grittiest competitors. Millman will certainly enjoy plenty of crowd support, and he has taken out big names at Majors before. At the 2018 US Open, he upended Roger Federer in extremely hot and humid conditions. And at the 2019 French Open, though he lost, Millman pushed Zverev to five sets. However, I fully expect Sascha to up his game on Wednesday. The German won 41 hard court matches last year, and claimed five titles, including the ATP Finals. He seems primed to make his second Slam final sooner than later, perhaps even at the end of next week.
Gael Monfils (17) vs. Alexander Bublik – Last on Margaret Court Arena
Well this match is pretty much guaranteed to be entertaining, featuring two players who often choose the more fun shot over the smarter shot. Monfils struggled to find any form following the pandemic shutdown, as playing in front of empty seats did not inspire him. But with fans back in the stands, Gael’s results have improved. He started the year by winning his first title in two years. By contrast, Bublik played well in the first half of 2021, propelling him to a career-high ranking some September, yet his results fizzled later in the year. During 2020’s autumn edition of Roland Garros, Bubik defeated Monfils in four sets. But with his mojo back, the Frenchman is the favorite to avenge that loss on Wednesday.
Other Notable Matches on Wednesday:
Ash Barty (1) vs. Lucia Bronzetti (Q) – On Monday, Barty needed less than an hour to dismiss Lesia Tsurenko 6-0, 6-1. Bronzetti is a 23-year-old Italian who reached five lower-level finals last season.
Rafael Nadal (6) vs. Yannick Hanfmann (Q) – Nadal was another straight-set victor in the first round. Hanfmann is a 30-year-old German who took out Thanasi Kokkinakis with the loss of just seven games, as the Australian was drained from his title run last week in Adelaide. Three years ago at Roland Garros, Yannick earned only six games against Rafa.
Barbora Krejcikova (4) vs. Xiyu Wang (WC) – Krejickova advanced almost as easily as Barty, by a score of 6-2, 6-0. Xiyu is a 20-year-old from China who on Monday gained her first victory in the main draw of a Major.
Matteo Berrettini (7) vs. Stefan Kozlov (WC) – Berrettini overcame some considerable stomach issues to secure a four-set win on Monday. Kozlov is a 23-year-old American who is making his Slam debut, thanks to claiming two Challenger titles in November to earn his wild card.
Naomi Osaka (13) vs. Madison Brengle – Osaka won comfortably in the opening round, while Brengle beat Dayana Yastremska by the bizarre score line of 6-1, 0-6, 5-0(RET), with Yastremska retiring one game from defeat.
Wednesday’s full Order of Play is here.
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