You know it's January when the world casts its gaze over Melbourne Park for the first Grand Slam event of the year. The city is awash with Australian Open (AO) branded signage, billboards and of course the famous Kia cars that fill the streets surrounding the precinct - all subtle reminders that the single best event on the Australian sporting calendar is just around the corner.
Melburnians are buzzing after being able to enjoy a summer free of restrictions following a grim two years being thrust in and out of lockdown and the AO looms as the perfect celebration of life returning (mostly) to normal. Crowds will be in full voice and unlike last year, they should not be asked to leave midway through an enthralling contest due to curfew.
Adding to the fans experience is the constant upgrading of the Melbourne Park facility which sees a brand new court, Show Court Arena, placed in the bustling hub between Rod Laver Arena and John Cain Arena. The northern side of the precinct will also be home to the AO Beach House which promises sand, water and even a beach tennis court. It truly is the Grand Slam for the fans.
As for the tennis itself, it’s set to be another cracking tournament with the mens field as open as ever and the ladies as hotly contested as ever. Here are some main talking points to gear you up for the 2022 Australian Open.
Is it Ash’s year?
It’s the obvious question on everyone’s mind heading into the Australian summer. Australia has not seen a home winner since Christine O’Neil saluted in 1978 and Barty represents Australia’s best hope of breaking that drought. The pressure will be on after an outstanding 2021 season where she raised five trophies (including Wimbledon), however, she looks in good shape to overcome her previous best at the AO which was a semifinal in 2020.
Which Osaka will turn up?
There is no doubt that Naomi Osaka is a top three quality player in the world when she’s on her game. It must be noted that not everyone can be on their game 365 days a year which is why we have seen some dips and peaks in Osaka’s game. After taking large parts of 2021 to focus on herself, Osaka should hit the courts at Melbourne Park feeling refreshed which should set her up for an extended run.
Speaking of who will turn up…Novak?
It currently remains one of the best-kept secrets in tennis, will Djokovic play or won’t he? Speculation has been rife for a little while now given Victoria’s vaccination requirements but we are still no closer to an answer on whether the 20-time Grand Slam champion will participate. Djokovic has been able to get away with playing in 2021 due to the more relaxed rules globally but has hit a roadblock at his favourite slam. His late withdrawal at the ATP Cup in Sydney could provide a hint though.
So if it isn’t Djokovic, then who?
If it turns out that Djokovic won’t take part this summer, then history would dictate that Rafael Nadal will skip through to pick up his second Australian Open title, right? I wouldn’t be so sure due to his interrupted preparations and lack of game-time in the second half of 2021. This leaves the door open for reigning US Open champion Daniil Medvedev to win his second slam in a row. Nipping at his heels will be Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev, Matteo Berrettini and Alex Zverev who have all shown the capability to make a deep run in major tournaments.