Tough quarantine rules are in place and, logistics-wise, everything is set to host a hitch-free Australian Open 2021 even in the shadow of a pandemic that refuses to go away.
However, this year, owing largely to the pandemic, the tournament already has and will further mark many departures from history. For one, the start date has been pushed forward to February 8 from the usual January 19.
Secondly, the top three players, rankings-wise and across the men’s and women’s fields, will not be camping in the host city during the two-week quarantine period.
Thirdly, the qualifying matches for this year’s Australian Open 2021 were held outside Australia. While Doha hosted the men’s qualifiers, the women’s fixtures were played at the Dubai Duty-Free Tennis Stadium and Complex.
The qualifiers have thrown up some familiar and unheralded names who can pull some serious punches on their day and give the title favorites a run for their money.
The French qualifier will be fancied to cause an upset or two in the women’s draw. Aged 26, she ousted Chinese Yue Yuan in straight sets to book a berth in the main draw. The Chinese player had ended the qualifying hopes of Canadian star Eugenie Bouchard with a straight-set win.
The 27-year-old Hungarian tennis star came through a tough final qualifying fixture against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova of Slovakia in three sets to make the main draw. She reached a career-high ranking of 25 in singles and was first from her country to be the World Number 1 in doubles.
A veteran in the WTA circuit at 33, the Bulgarian fought off Margarita Gasparyan of Russia in straight sets to seal her passage to the main women’s draw.
The reigning ITF junior world champion at 18, the American Osuigwe, earned a place in the main women’s draw with a hard-fought three-set win over Romanian Mihaela Buzarnescu. She became the first American in 28 years to win the junior French Open singles title in 2017.
The 24-year-old Japanese, with eight ITF singles titles under her belt, sealed her maiden passage to a Grand Slam draw with a commanding straight-set win over Kamilla Rakhimova of Russia.
A veteran in the men’s circuit at 28, the Australian outlasted compatriot Jaden-Patrick Smith in an absorbing three-setter to book his passage in the main draw. He achieved a career-high singles ranking of 17 and has two junior Grand Slam titles to his credit.
The 25-year-old Portuguese sealed his maiden Grand Slam entry with a comfortable straight-set win over Frenchman Gregoire Barrere. He became the first from his country to win a junior Grand Slam title in the doubles format at the 2012 US Open, partnering Briton Kyle Edmund.
The 24-year-old from France upstaged veteran Dutch star and two-time Tour title winner Robin Haase in straight sets to make the main draw. Towering at 1.91 meters, he achieved a career-high singles ranking of 102 on February 5, 2018.
The 25-year-old Dutchman, with a career-high singles ranking of 164, secured his passage to the men’s draw with a straight-set win over Mathias Bourgue. With his tall frame and powerful serve, Zandschulp could trouble more fancied opponents in the tournament proper.
The 27-year-old Russian sealed his maiden passage to a Grand Slam draw with a commanding straight-set win over Frenchman Andre Muller. He achieved a career-high singles ranking of 153 on May 11, 2015.