As the calendar changed over in January one question was still lingering for so many tennis fans – what would the Grand Slam season look like in 2021?
Soon enough we’ll have our answer, as the Australian Open kicks off Feb. 8.
The 2020 championship was the only one of four Grand Slams that was not impacted in some capacity by COVID-19, since it took place in late January and early February, prior to much of the world shutting down due to the coronavirus.
Novak Djokovic and Sofia Kenin were the men’s and women’s champions, respectively. Djokovic defended his title from 2019 and won the tournament for a record-extending eighth time. Kenin, meanwhile, defeated Garbine Muguruza 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 to win her first Grand Slam. In the process she became the youngest American to win a women’s singles title since Serena Williams in 2002. She was named the 2020 WTA Player of the Year.
While there will be limited fans in attendance Down Under, there will still be much to cheer about and follow along back home in Canada.
Here’s everything you need to know about the first Grand Slam of the year.
Bianca Andreescu, ranked eighth in the world, hasn’t played a competitive match since suffering a knee injury at the WTA Finals in October 2019. The 20-year-old from Mississaugua, Ont. won the US Open in 2019 but spent the whole of 2020 rehabbing her left knee.
Still, despite the lack of competitive reps (Andreescu is the top-ranked women at the Grampians Trophy, a tune-up for those tennis stars coming out of the quarantine installed by Australia on the athletes arriving for the event), she feels good returning to action.
“I would say the time off was a blessing in disguise. I worked a lot on myself personally,” Andreescu told The Globe and Mail. “Honestly the other day I was tearing up with joy because I’m literally getting ready for a tournament that’s actually going to happen.”
Other than Andreescu, the other Canadian women in the Australian Open draw include Rebecca Marino of Vancouver and Leylah Annie Fernandez of Laval, Que.
Marino will compete in a Grand Slam for the first time in eight years (she qualified in January in Dubai) while Fernandez made her Grand Slam debut at last year’s Australian Open.
On the men’s side there will be a foursome of Canadians looking to lift the trophy in Australia.
Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., Felix Auger-Aliassime of Montreal, and Vasek Pospisil of Vancouver are set to participate at the Australian Open.
According to The Canadian Press, this will be just the fifth time there are seven or more Canadian players in the men’s and women’s singles at a Grand Slam in the Open Era.
Sofia Kenin is defending her maiden Grand Slam title, but in order to do it, she’ll have to charge past a healthy collection of the top tennis stars in the world on the women’s side including a healthy Serena Williams.
For the first time since 2006 Williams did not appear in a Grand Slam final – due to a combination of an injured Achilles tendon and the pandemic – but she’s hungry to look for her 24th major title. If she does capture No. 24 that would tie her with Margaret Court’s all-time record (set more than 40 years ago).
“Never underestimate Serena,” Australian sports commentator Sam Smith told Wide World of Sports Australia in January.
Other notable women to keep an eye out on that side of the draw include upstart American Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka, Australian world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, and multi-time Grand Slam winner Simona Halep.
Not only did Novak Djokovic start the Grand Slam season as the winner in Australia but he ended the year ranked world number one. Djokovic will be the favourite at the Australian Open again, but like Kenin on the women’s side it will be a tough rode back to the Final.
Rafael Nadal – who captured the 2020 French Open for his record 13th title at Roland Garros – is looking for his second Australian Open title. He’s lost in the Final in Australia four times to go along with his lone victory. Still, despite hitting 34 years old, there seems to be no slowing down as he’s ranked number two in the world.
Other than Djokovic and Nadal (two long-time rivals) other notable men to watch out for at the Australian Open include Dominic Thiem (who won last year’s US Open for his first Grand Slam title, while also reaching the 2020 Australian Open final) and Daniil Medvedev (ranked fourth in the world behind Djokovic, Nadal, and Thiem.
WHAT’S DIFFERENT FOR 2021
The first thing of note for the Australian Open in 2021 is the date. It has been postponed by three weeks (into February) due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 109th edition of the tournament will feature 30,000 spectators (about half of what is normal capacity) but still a significant number as compared to what sports fans around the world see with hockey, basketball, soccer, or golf.
For the first time ever qualifying matches took place outside of Australia – due to coronavirus restrictions – and all players had to go through a 14-day quarantine prior to playing in a warm-up event before the Australian Open itself.
By Adam Stanley