The world’s best tennis players are beginning to arrive in Australia ahead of the opening Grand Slam of 2022 – the Australian Open. But Covid cases rising Down Under, uncertainty surrounds the tournament.
From a British perspective, all eyes will be on Emma Raducanu as she looks to make her mark again following his victory at the US Open last September.
Raducanu tested positive for Covid earlier this month but is understood to have recovered and will kick start her preparations in the Melbourne Summer Set – which is two WTA 250 tournaments scheduled to run from January 3-9.
The odds on Novak Djokovic winning his 21st major title in Melbourne next month – and thus breaking the three-way tie at the top of the leaderboard – have lengthened after the world No1 pulled out of the upcoming ATP Cup.
Djokovic’s intentions for this opening phase of the 2022 season remain shrouded in doubt. His ATP Cup withdrawal is the first piece of factual information to emerge from a complex situation.
No explanation has been offered to date, but the issue would seem to be the Australian government’s insistence that any tennis players wishing to travel and compete must have undergone Covid-19 vaccination.
Djokovic has previously expressed his scepticism about vaccines and has refused to reveal whether he has received the jab, saying that this should be a “private matter”. However, the fact that he is not playing the ATP Cup – an event which begins on Dec 31 and where Serbia will be the defending champions – suggests that he is still holding out against vaccination.
Djokovic has won nine titles and not lost a match for almost four years at the Australian Open. The Serbian tabloid Blic suggested this week that there has been a concerted and ongoing attempt from Tennis Australia to persuade the Victorian state government to grant Djokovic – and several other leading players – a medical exemption. This would allow the players in question to travel and compete without evidence of vaccination.
Tennis Australia responded to Blic’s story with a statement, describing the medical exemption process as “rigorous and independent”.
Elsewhere Naomi Osaka arrived in Melbourne on Tuesday to defend her Australian Open title and naomi mark a return to professional tennis following a break over mental health fears. The defending champion has not played since she lost to Leylah Fernandez in the third round of the US Open in September. After the defeat, the 24-year-old tearfully announced she would take an indefinite break from the sport to focus on her mental health.
But it appears her hiatus is set to come to an end as Osaka touched down in Melbourne ahead of next month’s Australian Open. The major has proved a happy hunting ground for Osaka who has won the competition twice in 2019 and last year. The former world number one was among several players to arrive in Australia. Seventeen charter flights have been organised by Tennis Australia to transport players and support staff from Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Los Angeles, Santiago, Tokyo and Singapore.
Meanwhile, Dominic Thiem has withdrawn as he continues his recovery from a wrist injury. The 28-year-old Austrian, who was runner-up in 2020, has not played competitively since suffering an injury in June, which meant he was unable to defend his US Open title. Thiem suffered a setback in his recovery during a recent training camp in Dubai and, although he says he is fully fit again, the former world number three will skip Melbourne Park.
When is the Australian Open?
The tournament gets underway on January 17 and concludes with the men’s final on January 30.
Where is the Australian Open?
The Australian Open takes place at Melbourne Park in Victoria.
Who is missing at the Australian Open?
Two of the sport’s biggest names – Roger Federer and Serena Williams – will not be in Melbourne next month as they continue to recover from injuries that disrupted their 2021 seasons. 2014 winner and Federer’s Swiss compatriot Stan Wawrinka is also out.
2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu is also missing as she takes a break from the tour while former British No 1 Jo Konta announced her retirement from tennis in November.
Australian Open match dates
January 17 – Men’s and women’s singles first round
January 18 – Men’s and women’s singles first round
January 19 – Men’s and women’s singles second round
January 20 – Men’s and women’s singles second round
January 21 – Men’s and women’s singles third round
January 22 – Men’s and women’s singles third round
January 23 – Men’s and women’s singles fourth round
January 24 – Men’s and women’s singles fourth round
January 25 – Men’s and women’s singles quarter-finals
January 26 – Men’s and women’s singles quarter-finals
January 27 – Women’s semi-finals
January 28 – Men’s semi-finals
January 29 – Women’s final
January 20 – Men’s final
How to watch the Australian Open 2022 on TV
Eurosport has the rights to broadcast live action from Melbourne.
Coverage begins at midnight on January 17 for the opening session of the tournament.