Back to play at the Australian Open. After the tennis season halved in 2020, due to a pandemic, this year's first Grand Slam starts among the thousands of unknowns caused by the health emergency and with the excellent absence of Roger Federer.
The Swiss will not be in Melbourne and, at the dawn of his 40s, who knows if we will see him again. On the other hand, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal were present, with the latter chasing the solitary record of Major (currently on par with Federer at 20).
The Slam Down Under was one of the last open-access sporting events a year ago. And from here comes a first glimpse of normality, a novelty we were no longer used to: the return of the public. “One of the most popular international sporting events in recent months”.
It is with this declaration that the sports minister of the State of Victoria, Martin Pakula, has made it official that the Australian Open will be able to open its doors to a maximum of 30,000 people a day. More or less 50% of the overall capacity of the system.
The limit will then be reduced to 25,000 in the last week of the tournament - from the quarter-finals onwards - when, however, it will only be played on the main pitch of the Rod Laver Arena. For tennis it is the second tournament that sees the public return to the stands, after Roland Garros in October, when, however, access was allowed to a maximum of 1000 spectators.
Net of all the health measures that have now become customary (social distancing, mask and sanitation), to manage these numbers Melbourne Park will be divided into three zones: the Rod Laver Arena Zone, the Margaret Court Arena Zone and the John Cain Arena Zone.
Spectators cannot pass from one area to another. This is to ensure greater order and better tracking ability of any positive. It will then be impossible to approach the players. The separation between fans and athletes will be clear and strictly controlled.
The situation will be monitored on a daily basis and it cannot be ruled out that the Grand Slam may return behind closed doors within two weeks. Former British tennis star Annabel Croft has backed Roger Federer to play more aggressive when he returns to action because he will still want to battle Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic for the major titles.
Croft talks about Roger Federer
Although tennis' Big Three of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are all coming towards the end of their careers, Annabel Croft still reckons they will have enough to dominate this season.
She added: "Big Three, far from being in decline, are looking as likely as ever to dominate, with the caveat that nobody will quite know what to expect from Federer, who will turn 40 in August. He seems to have been holding back the years for most of the last decade and we have learned never to write him off, but does he have it in him to make one more all-conquering comeback? Although Federer has made successful returns from lengthy breaks in the past – he came back in 2017 after six months out to win three of his next four Grand Slam tournaments – he will have been absent for 11 months.
In the meantime Thiem, Zverev and some of the other young guns have taken their games to new levels, while Djokovic and Nadal have continued to prove their durability."