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Tennis

🎾Australian Open

January 16, 2022

📗 The history


PROFESSIONAL SPORT/POPPERFOTO/GETTY IMAGES

The first iteration of the Australian Open dates back more than a century — the first tournament for men was held in 1905 and the first for women in 1922, run by the Lawn Tennis Association of Australasia.

  • In 1927, the tournament was renamed the Australian Championships, and in 1969, the Australian Open. Initially played across multiple major Aussie cities, Melbourne was named the sole host city in 1972.

The Open struggled to find its footing in the early years, however. Because Australia is just so dang far away, many international players resisted playing Down Under. While the three other major tournaments — Wimbledon, the French Open and the US Open — seemed to have distinct identities, the Aussie Open’s renaissance really only started in the 1990s.

  • Then-director Paul McNamee made it his mission to bring the Aussie Open on equal footing with its Northern Hemisphere counterparts: “We needed to be ourselves, which was a sun-drenched nation that needs to have a big casual outdoor party,” he said.
  • And party they did, with the Aussie Open now drawing in the biggest names in tennis. Swiss legend Roger Federer even nicknamed the tournament the “Happy Slam.” You can’t help but smile.


✔️ The details

MARK KOLBE/GETTY IMAGES

Now for the nitty gritty: how does this tournament work? On Thursday the 13th, 128 men’s and women’s singles players (along with 64 doubles pairs) were drawn. Those players will go through four opening rounds, leading up to the quarterfinals. The finals are set for January 29th and 30th, local time.

Now let’s talk money. The Aussie Open’s prize pot comes in at a record total of $75 million Australian dollars (aka $54.5 million USD), a 4.5% increase from last year. Singles winners will take away $4.4 million Australian dollars (aka $3.15 million USD). Very nice.


🎾 COVID-19 on the court

MARTIN KEEP/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

The Aussie Open has recently been in the global headlines, but not because of tennis. We’ve covered the COVID-19 saga in previous newsletters and podcasts, but here’s a quick refresher on what’s been going down.

  • Back in November, the Open announced that only fully vaccinated players would be allowed to participate. In addition, all spectators 12 years or older would be required to be fully vaccinated or have a valid medical exemption.

Given that over 80% of the top 100 men's singles players were vaccinated by then, and that last year’s Open also operated under strict protocol, the announcement didn’t seem to pose too much of a problem. That is until notable vaccine skeptic Novak Djokovic entered the scene.

In last week’s whirlwind, Djokovic was approved for a medical exemption, detained at the border and finally released by the Australian government. Though he was included (as the No. 1 seed) in the Open’s men’s single draw on Thursday, in a shocking twist the Joker had his visa canceled again on Friday, local time. While he has another hearing lined up, we think this is it.

  • The Djokovic saga has been long and winding, but TL;DR, he’s a rule-breaker. From publicly meeting folks the day after testing positive to ticking the wrong boxes on his arrival documents, the man is a mess and a half. Good riddance.

But enough about Mr. Novax Djokovic — here are the competitors you’ll actually see taking the court.


💪 Women to watch

TENNIS AUSTRALIA

First things first — the Williams sisters won’t be on the court. This will be the first time since 1997 (!!!) that the Aussie Open won’t feature either Venus or Serena. While this soon-to-be end of an era has us in our feelings, there are still plenty of exciting stars to watch.

No. 1 seed Ashleigh Barty: Not to be dramatic, but our love for Ash Barty knows no bounds. The world No. 1 could become the first Aussie singles champion at the Australian Open, man or woman, since 1978.

No. 13 seed Naomi Osaka: But Barty might face her toughest test yet if, as predicted, she faces reigning Aussie Open champion Naomi Osaka in the Round of 16. Osaka has taken important time off from competition this past year, so we’re thrilled to see her back on the court. Lest we forget, when she’s on, she’s on.

The kids are alright: Lucky for us, the teen queens are back — the U.K.’s Emma Raducanu will look to repeat her US Open miracle in Melbourne, starting with an opening match against American princess Sloane Stephens.

  • U.S. prodigy Coco Gauff enters as the No. 18 seed, and Canadian sweetheart Leylah Fernandez will compete as the No. 23 seed.


👊 Men to watch

While Novak Djokovic was drawn as the No. 1 seed on Thursday, at the time of writing on Friday, the men’s singles seeding has not been updated in response to his visa cancellation.

World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev: Watch out for Daniil Medvedev, who lost to the Joker in last year’s final. After winning the US Open in 2021, Medvedev will be looking to level up his trophy collection this year.

World No. 3 Alexander Zverev: Alexander Zverev is by all means poised for greatness. After winning at both the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and the 2021 ATP Finals, Zverev has a chance to win his first Grand Slam and make his talent undeniable.

World No. 6 Rafael Nadal: Of the last 16 Australian Open men’s titles, 15 have been won by either Djokovic, Federer or Nadal. Especially with Djokovic (probably) out, the King of Clay has a shot to take this year’s crown.

Wild Card, Andy Murray: We can’t help but root for the man. Coming back from hip surgery, Murray enters the tournament for the first time since 2019 as a wild card.


📺 How to tune in

KELLY DEFINA/GETTY IMAGES

The Open kicks off on the 17th in Australia, so tonight in North America. You can tune in on ESPN or the Tennis Channel in the U.S., and TSN in Canada. If you’d rather read along, live updates will be posted here. If The Great British Bake-Off can be live-blogged, so can tennis.

🎾Tennis: You’ve been served

January 14, 2022
AUSTRALIAN OPEN/TWITTER
AUSTRALIAN OPEN/TWITTER

The GIST: Another day, another update to the (yes, still) ongoing Novak Djokovic–Australian Open drama. Trust us, we’re over it, too.

Driving the news: Four days after Djokovic’s visa was reinstated (after initially being canceled for failure to meet the country’s entry requirements), Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke used his personal power to deport the No. 1 seed at the upcoming Aussie Open on Friday evening, Australia time. Crikey!

  • In a statement, Hawke said that he canceled the visa, “on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so.” With the decision, Hawke sided with the 83% of Australians who wanted Djokovic out of the country.
  • The Joker now likely faces a three-year ban on obtaining a new Australian visa. While he can technically launch another appeal, we have a feeling this is it.
  • Djokovic confirmed that he made a false declaration on his travel form (blaming his agent in the process) and that he knowingly met with the public after testing positive for COVID-19 last month. Yeah, that’s a nope from us.

The women’s draw: While the men’s side deals with this off-court mess, we’re not so patiently waiting for the women’s on-court action. The biggest outcome from yesterday’s draw release is that No. 1 Ash Barty and No. 13 Naomi Osaka could meet in the fourth round. Please don’t make us pick a side…

  • As for our Canadian contenders, No. 23 Leylah Fernandez has a clear path to the later rounds, but she could run up against No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka in the fourth. But with all of Canada (including lululemon) on her side, we’re not worried.

🎾Tennis: Liar, liar, setting the sports world on fire

January 12, 2022
CNN SPORTS/TWITTER
CNN SPORTS/TWITTER

The GIST: Novak Djokovic’s reward for lying? The No. 1 men’s seed in next week’s Australian Open.

Catch up quick: Djokovic’s top rank comes amid an ongoing visa battle related to his unvaccinated status. Queue up our latest episode of The GIST of It for all the deets, but here’s the TL;DR:

  • After initially being granted a “medical exemption” to compete in the Grand Slam, Djokovic had his visa revoked upon arrival in Australia last week and was detained for four days, before ultimately winning a legal battle to reinstate his visa on Monday.

The latest: Clearly this is a complicated situation, and it's only become messier as new lies details continue to emerge. For starters, reports broke yesterday that Djokovic claimed on an immigration form that he did not travel for 14 days before his flight to Australia…despite publicly traveling in that span. We have the receipts, sir.

  • What’s more, it appears Djokovic also broke COVID-19 regulations in his home country of Serbia, as he attended multiple events (sans mask) after testing positive on December 16th. Yes, seriously.
  • And there could be yet another twist to this saga. The Australian immigration minister still holds the power to deport the Joker and is reportedly “thoroughly considering” doing so. To be continued…

The women’s tourney: In on-court (and good) news, the women’s field is set. Australia’s own Ash Barty will look to ride the No. 1 seed to her first-ever Aussie Open title, while defending champ Naomi Osaka came in at lucky number 13 after withdrawing from a tune-up event last week.

🎾A shocker down under

January 10, 2022
THE INDEPENDENT
THE INDEPENDENT

The GIST: The Novak Djokovic–Australian Open saga took a stunning turn yesterday when the Australian government’s initial decision to cancel his visa was reversed, granting the men’s world No. 1 entry into the country. WTF, mate?

A refresher: In November 2021, Australian Open organizers implemented a vaccine mandate for the tournament, but Djovokic — who is (probably) unvaccinated — received a last-minute medical exemption to compete. However, when he arrived in Australia last week, the Joker was denied entry after failing to provide the appropriate documents.

  • Djokovic filed an appeal and spent the weekend in immigration detention (aka a refugee hotel) awaiting the court’s final decision.
  • The latest example of a high profile, anti-vax athlete trying to bend the rules in their favor, the story quickly captivated an already polarized world.

Yesterday’s ruling: At 5:16 p.m. local time, an Australian court reversed course on the government’s decision yesterday, granting Djokovic entry into the country and, in turn, into next week’s tournament, where he’ll compete for a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title.

  • The judge ruled that the tennis star be released within 30 minutes of the decision and confirmed that if Djokovic had been deported, he would not have been allowed back into the country for the next three years. We have...thoughts.

Elsewhere in Australia: Meanwhile, the women are holding things down on the actual court. World No. 1 Ash Barty won the Adelaide International title (a tune-up for next week’s major) while World No. 15 Simona Halep won the other warm-up event, the Melbourne Summer Set 1.

  • And while defending Aussie Open champ Naomi Osaka withdrew from the Melbourne Summer Set 1 due to an abdominal injury, she’s still expected to play when the Grand Slam begins next week. Competitors (and muppets), beware.

🎾Tennis: No court for the Novak Djokovic

January 07, 2022
THOMAS KRONSTEINER/GETTY IMAGES
THOMAS KRONSTEINER/GETTY IMAGES

The GIST: More men’s sports drama? Coming right up. As we discussed on yesterday’s episode of The GIST of It, after initially receiving a medical exemption to compete for a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title at the upcoming Australian Open, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic was denied entry into the country.

The background: In November 2021, Australian Open officials announced that only vaccinated players would be allowed to compete, a policy consistent with Australia’s strict COVID-19 restrictions.

  • But on Tuesday, Djokovic — who has not explicitly shared his vaccine status but has expressed vaccine skepticismannounced that he had received a medical exemption (assumedly for not being vaccinated) and would be eligible to compete.
  • As expected, the Australian public — who’ve been in and out of lockdown since March 2020 — were rightfully peeved, and their prime minister, Scott Morrison, was too, tweeting “Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders. No one is above these rules.” Preach.

The latest: Upon landing in Australia on Wednesday, Djokovic’s visa was rejected due to failure “to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements.” The Joker filed an appeal, but was sent to immigration detention, where he’ll remain until his appeal resumes on Monday.

  • Meanwhile, Djokovic’s rival, Rafael Nadal, who could take home his record-setting 21st Grand Slam this month, shared his views, saying, “everybody is free to take [sic] their own decisions, but then there are some consequences.” Mic drop.