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The Australian Open gets under way on Monday after what has been an extraordinary build-up.
With Novak Djokovic’s participation still undecided following his latest visa cancellation, talk of tennis and the stories that may lie ahead at Melbourne Park was very much on hold.
Here, we pick out five talking points for the tournament.
The Djokovic question
Will he, won’t he? The wait goes on for Novak Djokovic with less than 72 hours to go until the start of the tournament. On Thursday he looked set to play, by Friday he had been told to leave the country again, with a further appeal against the ruling likely. If he does compete, it is a measure of both his excellence and mental resilience that he will be the favourite despite the ultimate in troubled build-ups. If not, Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev take on that mantle, with Rafael Nadal aiming to put another injury lay-off behind him.
Focus on Raducanu
Emma Raducanu’s first grand slam tournament since her extraordinary US Open triumph has been overshadowed by off-court events but the spotlight will shine brightly on the teenager at Melbourne Park. The courts should suit her but Raducanu represents a prize scalp now while her preparations were disrupted by a bout of coronavirus. It is likely to take most of this season for the 19-year-old to really find her feet on tour.
Former world number one Andy Murray broke down and walked out of a press conference in Australia when asked how he was coping after an 18-month battle with injury.
Shortly after, he returned to announce plans to retire from a glittering tennis career pic.twitter.com/uN6Ze8l1ZN
— PA Sport (@pasport) January 11, 2019
When Andy Murray sobbed his way through his pre-tournament press conference three years ago, finally opening up on the extent of his hip problems, it seemed he was waving goodbye not just to Melbourne but to tennis. The tournament all but retired him with a tribute video from his fellow stars but now he is back and the prognosis seems brighter than at any point since. Murray has stayed fit since Wimbledon, is finally able to train and play tournaments week after week, and results are starting to come.
Osaka seeking happiness on the court
It was unclear when, or even if, Naomi Osaka would return to the tennis tour for much of 2021 but this year has started on a much brighter note. The reigning Australian Open champion appeared much more relaxed on court and in the press conference room in Melbourne last week. Osaka admits she focused too much on results and rankings in the past and will instead prioritise enjoying the sport. The 24-year-old’s actions last year divided opinion but there is no doubt a happy and healthy Osaka is a real asset for the sport.
The Covid question
When tournament director Craig Tiley and his team jumped through hoops and put Tennis Australia into the red in order to hold last year’s event, they cannot have imagined that 2022 would be even more tricky. The Djokovic fiasco has dominated the headlines but, with the Omicron variant rife in Melbourne, there are concerns the virus could have a major impact on the tournament. Players have been advised to take precautions but a number have tested positive since arriving in the country while crowds have been capped .