Australian Open: At last, it’s showtime as players set for test of skill, stamina and mental toughness | Tennis News


2021-02-07 12:51:56

Rafael Nadal’s expression was light when he took his seat for the media conference ahead of the Australian Open. Some 20-minutes later, when he exited the scene, he didn’t wince.
The 34-year-old, sporting a fitted black tee, outlined the situation on the eve of the opening Grand Slam of the year.

The world No.2 tweaked a muscle in his lower back during his quarantine, days went on weeks and it became progressively worse, forcing the 20-time major winner to opt out of the ATP Cup. Aided by an assortment of professionals, Nadal took the practice court at Melbourne Park on Sunday, he tried serving, but couldn’t enjoy the freedom of movement that characterizes his play.

A reflection of the times we’re living in, where restriction is the axiom. Even 12 months ago, only in a science-fiction narrative was there a place for scenarios such as this.

Nadal, a creature of tireless routine, who loves his time under the sun, be it swinging a racket or sailing the high seas, refused to blame the two-week quarantine for the stiffness in his back.
“When things happen,” he said, “you need to find a way to go through.”
Naomi Osaka, the 2019 Australian Open champion, endorsed flexible as the new attitude. When quarantining, she discovered an elasticity to her days, she could be on court as early as 7 am or as late as 10 pm. The world no.3 takes on Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the day session on the Rod Laver Arena on Monday.
“In life you have to be adjustable. It’s probably the people that aren’t able to adjust quickly that are having the hardest time here,” Osaka said. “I’m a person that can adjust quite quickly.”
While routine is religion for most athletes Bianca Andreescu, the eighth seed, who won the 2019 US Open defeating Serena Williams in the title round, battled long and hard on the sidelines. She has played just six matches since that triumph 17 months ago.
The 20-year-old Canadian, who was in hard quarantine after arriving in mid-January, hadn’t struck a tennis ball in the intervening time, until last weekend.
“You can only do Zoom fitness and shadow tennis for so long. I’ve been playing a lot of Xbox, it takes my mind off a lot of things. I’ve been reading a lot, meditating,” she said. “After we got out of quarantine, it took a couple minutes for my eyes to adjust getting out because I could only see, like, 10 feet in front of me.”
Defending champion Sofia Kenin said the hunger to succeed would level the playing field this fortnight. The American said, “We somewhat got through it together, everyone’s just hungry to play and finally get on the court.”
The one thing players are not experiencing difficulty in is adjusting to the increased zip on the surface, ask world No.1 Novak Djokovic.
“The courts are quicker and quicker here each year. Comparing it to, say, five, six years ago, it’s a lot quicker than it used to be,” the Serb said. “It obviously favors big servers. You have to adapt your game. I think with my return, I’ve managed to win a lot of matches against big servers on these kinds of courts. In these kinds of conditions you really need to have a complete game in order to go all the way.”
While the mental shuffle was the talking point among players, Briton Dan Evans leaned on the physical. “It would be nice in the Open if you played two sets, have an hour off then come back and play,” he said. It would be nice indeed.
MILESTONES
Novak Djokovic is bidding to win his ninth Australian Open title and extend his lead at the top for most Australian men’s singles titles.
Nadal is bidding to win his 21st Grand Slam title and claim sole ownership of the record for most Grand Slam men’s singles titles of all-time, ahead of Federer. The Spaniard is bidding to become the first man in the Open Era to win each of the four Grand Slam titles twice.
Djokovic is guaranteed to remain world No. 1 when the new rankings are released on Monday, 22 February. He is also guaranteed to equal Federer’s record for most weeks as world No. 1 (310) on Monday 1 March.
Serena Williams leads all active players with 357 Grand Slam match wins, followed by her sister Venus Williams with 269.
Serena is the oldest woman in the Open Era to win a Grand Slam singles title – most recently at the 2017 Australian Open.
A teenager has won a Grand Slam singles title 35 times (14 different players) in the Open Era most recently at 2020 Roland Garros when Iga Swiatek (19 yrs, 132 days) won her first major title.



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