Determining the place and learn how to begin the tennis season is often fairly simple for the world’s high gamers. They catch a flight to Australia round Christmas, spend a couple of days getting over the jet lag, then compete for 2 weeks in warm-up tournaments forward of the Australian Open.
However with the game’s calendar upended by the coronavirus pandemic, which prompted a three-week delay of the Australian Open, gamers have needed to make tough calculations concerning the worth of touring to compete now, as an infection charges are nonetheless hovering in lots of elements of the world.
Because the 2021 skilled tennis season started this week, a number of of the highest gamers opted to not attend the one opening tournaments earlier than they should quarantine for 2 weeks in Australia. This yr, they can’t merely present up in Australia and compete immediately.
Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, ranked No. 1 and No. 2 among the many males, remained on their apply courts fairly than venturing to Turkey or Florida for the primary occasions on their tour (Roger Federer is out with a knee harm). Andy Murray of Britain, a three-time Grand Slam winner, was imagined to play in Florida, then grew skittish about touring throughout the pandemic and pulled out. On the ladies’s aspect, the American stars Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka skipped the occasion in Abu Dhabi.
The plans for these three tournaments have been introduced solely in late December, because the organizers of the Australian Open determined that the beginning of their Grand Slam occasion can be delayed till Feb. 8 and that every one contributors can be required to closely prohibit their actions for 2 weeks forward of the match.
“I used to be able to go and able to play matches,” mentioned Cam Norrie of Britain, who performed within the Florida match, the Delray Seaside Open, after practising indoors in London since late November. “However for lots of gamers because it was sprung on them a bit final minute, they weren’t prepared and didn’t wish to compete.”
The schedule follows an low season that, for many gamers, was longer than the same old six-week break. The pandemic pressured the ladies’s tour to cancel its fall Asia swing. On the lads’s aspect, for all however the high gamers, there has not been a match since early November.
Sofia Kenin, 22, the reigning Australian Open champion, went to Abu Dhabi and mentioned at a information convention this week that opting to play was a “last-minute resolution” motivated partly by a want “simply to get out of the home.”
Additionally competing there have been Karolina Pliskova, a former world No. 1, and Coco Gauff, the rising American teenager.
For many high gamers, the choice to play or to not play this week in the end got here right down to whether or not they thought taking part in actual matches now would assist them get mentally and bodily ready for the pains of a Grand Slam.
“I want a while to get again into rhythm and play extra matches,” Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, who gained the final two tournaments of 2020, advised reporters as she competed in Abu Dhabi this week. She gained her eleventh consecutive match on Friday.
The open query for Sabalenka and different gamers is how their particular person decisions throughout the first weeks of the season would possibly play into the weird routines for this Australian Open.
In the course of the quarantine, gamers will likely be allowed to apply for under two hours every day, initially with only one apply associate after which with two extra within the second week. They may also get to spend about two hours within the gymnasium, and one different hour on the tennis heart in Melbourne. They need to spend the 19 different hours of their resort rooms.
After the quarantine, the lads’s and ladies’s excursions will maintain three aggressive occasions in Melbourne within the week earlier than the Open.
Craig Morris, a former coach for the Australian Samantha Stosur, who gained the 2011 U.S. Open, mentioned that given how little tennis came about final yr, competitors this month can be useful.
“Something they will get beneath the belt goes to assist,” he mentioned.
Tennis gamers are consistently looking for the optimum rhythm — to hit the ball cleanly on practically each shot and to really feel assured about their strokes whatever the state of affairs. It’s not one thing that may simply be turned on and off, and for a lot of gamers that zone is reached by the proper mixture of apply and match play.
The coronavirus is simply the most recent twist to that hunt.
Murray, 31, was able to play this week, however introduced in a information launch on New 12 months’s Eve that he was too involved concerning the pandemic to make the journey.
“Given the rise in Covid charges and the trans-Atlantic flights concerned, I wish to reduce the dangers forward of the Australian Open,” Murray mentioned.
A number of different notable gamers, together with the Italians Matteo Berrettini and Fabio Fognini, plus John Isner of the US and Adrian Mannarino of France, have been competing in both Turkey or Florida.
Loads of gamers competed this week as a result of they knew they might use some prize cash after so many aggressive alternatives have been canceled final yr, when the tour was shut down for about 5 months. Many additionally needed to see if the low season work they put in was paying dividends on the court docket.
Leylah Fernandez, 18, a fast-improving Canadian, mentioned making the journey to Abu Dhabi was “a really tough resolution,” however with all of the uncertainty hanging over the tennis schedule — and all sports activities in 2021 — she and her staff took the chicken in hand.
“We needed to get as many matches beneath my belt as we may,” Fernandez mentioned after profitable her first match on Wednesday.
Tommy Paul, an American who spent the low season coaching on the tennis advanced in Delray Seaside, Fla., mentioned the realigned schedule had shifted his strategy to the weeks main as much as a Grand Slam. Paul, 23, mentioned in an interview Wednesday that he spent the low season attempting to show himself into extra of an all-court participant by coming to the online extra usually.
The Delray Seaside match, he mentioned, supplied him a chance to measure his progress and work out what he nonetheless must work on. The 2-week quarantine in Australia, the place his hitting companions would be the People Steve Johnson and Sam Querrey, will give him the possibility to work on the weaknesses he identifies in competitors on the Delray Seaside occasion. Paul gained his first spherical match Thursday over Nam Ji-sung of South Korea, 6-1, 6-4.
“If there’s something I don’t like about my recreation I’ve time to repair it.” Paul mentioned.