Stories and sub-plots: Five things to watch for at the Australian Open, including Rafael Nadal struggles
Ahead of the Australian Open, Michael Graham picks out five stories and sub-plots to keep your eye on as the tournament develops, including the biggest problem facing Rafael Nadal.
Can Rafael Nadal solve Novak Djokovic puzzle?
There can be little question that Rafael Nadal has had a stunning six months or so heading to Australia.
The Spaniard has won the US Open, added to his Masters titles collection, and finished 2019 as year-end world number one.
One thing he hasn’t done, though, is solve Novak Djokovic.
Djokovic has Nadal’s number, and there is no getting away from it. If there was any doubt, the ATP Cup final should have removed it.
It won’t be easy for Nadal in Melbourne, especially with the conditions favouring his rival, but beating Djokovic to the Australian Open title would be right up there with his biggest achievements.
Can Roger Federer hold off Nadal charge?
If Nadal can find a way to win the Australian Open, he will draw level at the top of the all-time Grand Slam title count with his ultimate rival, Roger Federer.
Nadal says he is not motivated by that, and Federer insists he would not be bothered about losing the record, but it would still be a significant moment in their storied rivalry.
Who knows, maybe it will push Federer to win it himself? You’d never put anything past Fededer, even at 38-years-old.
Can the youngsters make a breakthrough?
Let’s be honest: We ask this at the start of every Grand Slam, and we have for as long as most of us can remember. They have never really delivered.
Something feels more imminent now, though. Obviously, the big three have started to look a little more vulnerable than before, which happens with age.
But also, there are two players who look genuinely on the cusp of something: Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Medvedev gave a brilliant account of himself in the US Open final and Tsitsipas won the ATP Finals in November, so both are pushing.
Dominic Thiem deserves to be in the conversation too, particularly with two Grand Sla finals behind him.
Does Serena Williams have another left in her?
Serena Williams isn’t the force she was, but she is still reaching Grand Slam finals with stunning regularity.
She has come close to winning the US Open twice and Wimbledon twice since she returned to tennis after becoming a mother, but has fallen at the final hurdle in all four.
However, there doesn’t appear to be a true favourite for the women’s title, does there?
Ashleigh Barty may struggle to deal with the expectation at home, Naomi Osaka is in the early days with her new coach, and Simona Halep is struggling for consistency.
Consistency is something Williams never struggles for, though, and she could flourish in Melbourne.
How will the bushfire crisis affect things?
There’s no getting away from the fact that air quality is a huge problem heading into the Australian Open.
Melbourne is at the mercy of the winds, which can bring thick smoke from the bushfires to engulf the city.
Qualifying has been severely affected, with players retiring hurt due to coughing fits and reporting they are struggling to breathe.
The Australian Open usually has searing temperatures to deal with, so they are well-versed in medically protecting players, but how this particular situation actually plays out in practice is anyone’s guess right now.
How did he do that? Epic Andy Murray performance as he saves matches points to win
Of all the performances Andy Murray has served up since his hip surgery in 2019, this may have been his most epic.
Emma Raducanu announces new sponsorship deal as she reveals how decision to become brand ambassador was influenced
Dior the latest to link up with Emma Raducanu.
The famous Wimbledon queues will return in 2022 as All England Club reveals changes to the schedule
Covid restrictions meant all tickets for the 2021 tournament were sold online.
Novak Djokovic gives update on his 2021 schedule as he also reveals when he will return to training
Novak Djokovic gives update on 2021 schedule.
Incredible footage of US Open champ Emma Raducanu playing Indian Wells winner Paula Badosa
Emma Raducanu took on Paula Badosa at a Futures tournament in Bolton two years ago.
Cameron Norrie inspired by Emma Raducanu’s US Open win, but says it’s ’50-50′ about which story is more believable
Emma Raducanu “inspired me a little bit, that was crazy”, says Cameron Norrie.
Andy Murray backs Kim Clijsters to win at highest level again with Scot impressed by her ball-striking
“I’m sure she can still win matches at the highest level.”
Novak Djokovic reveals ‘I still don’t know if I will’ play in Australian Open as he vows to stay mum over vaccine status
Questions over Djokovic’s participation in Aus Open.
Unvaccinated tennis players warned they are unlikely to receive visas for the 2022 Australian Open
Victoria has a vaccination mandate for professional athletes.
ATP Rankings: Roger Federer out of the top 10, Cameron Norrie into top 20, Andy Murray plunges
This week’s ATP Rankings update.