Australian men’s players have often lived doomsday scenarios from draws of the past at their home grand slam, but the outlook was a little more glass-half-full on Friday.
In reality, it was the nation’s best men’s player, Alex de Minaur, who might have a touch of trepidation ahead of round one action on Monday or Tuesday. The rising local meets unseeded American Tennys Sandgren, a two-time quarter-finalist, first up.
Sandgren made headlines from the get-go on this trip Down Under and became the face of the tournament’s COVID-19 shenanigans when he was allowed to travel on a charter flight to Australia after his positive test was ruled to be “viral shedding”.
His mocking of Tennis Australia for a slightly-later-than-expected departure from quarantine didn’t go down well.
But expect a feature timeslot, inevitably a main night session, for this clash against de Minaur, only months after the Australian’s first major quarter-final in New York.
Elsewhere, the country’s women’s players face some daunting assignments in the opening round. Ashleigh Barty, however, should enjoy a smooth path through the early stages of her first grand slam in 12 months.
Nick Kyrgios, entering the tournament with an injury cloud over him, fared well, drawn to meet Portugal’s qualifier Frederico Ferreira Silva straight up. Looking slightly further ahead, US Open champion Dominic Thiem could await in the third round. Book your tickets as soon as you can.
The country’s second highest ranked men’s player, ATP Cup singles representative John Millman, meets Frenchman Corentin Moutet, with the prospect of big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic waiting next.
There are eight local wildcards in the women’s draw, and a further seven Australian wildcards on the men’s side. South Australian Li Tu received the final wildcard on Friday and his first round match-up against tour veteran Feliciano Lopez – who doubles as a tournament director in Spain – will attract sport’s aficionados.
It’s in the wildcard bracket where there’s another match-up to mark down after Australian veteran Samantha Stosur, in her 19th Australian Open main draw, was drawn against Destanee Aiava.
Barty won’t bother looking past her opening round opponent Danka Kovinic but if she does, the Queenslander might see another local wildcard, Daria Gavrilova, waiting across the net.
Lizette Cabrera drew the short straw, with an opening assignment against reigning Wimbledon champion and world No.2 Simona Halep.
All in all, it’s almost time for the main event. After months of COVID-induced drama, the first tennis major of 2021 is finally about to begin.
Yes, it’s February, there’s no Roger Federer, but it won’t be a summer in Melbourne to forget.
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