These Australian Open banners were blowing Monday in Federation Square, the central gathering spot for locals and visitors in Melbourne. Between two of them can be seen the dome of a traditional landmark of the city centre – Flinders Street Railway Station at the junction of Flinders and Swanston streets.
The hazy sky that moved over Melbourne on Monday is visible in the background and a few people (see below) were protecting themselves against any harmful effects of the poor air quality.
There are fears for the Australian Open if the conditions continue or worsen, with smoke blowing over from fires more than four hours away. There’s a small chance the 2020 Australian Open could be compromised.
Everything depends on the winds and long term the odds are that they will be favourable and keep the heavy-duty, dirty stuff away, making matters manageable. The two (women’s and men’s) 128-player draws for the qualifying beginning from next Tuesday to Friday may be a greater concern than the singles main draws, which don’t start until Monday the 20th in two weeks.
For the record, skies cleared considerably Tuesday, a day when there would have been no problem playing tennis matches at Melbourne Park.
One of the advantages of the Australian Open is that it’s the only one of the four Grand Slam events that has three retractable roof arenas – Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne (formerly Hisense) Arena and Margaret Court Arena. Their roofs could be closed – and they are at the moment – to allow play. But that wouldn’t help very much with all those qualifying matches or with the combined 128 women’s and men’s singles matches to be played on the first two days on January 20 and 21. But the roofed stadiums could potentially be useful toward the end of the event when there are fewer matches.
The effects of the fires have been devastating for so many and this billboard, with an ominous gray sky in the background, reflects the seriousness and the extent of the damage.
Tennis players have chipped in in various ways and next Wednesday, the 15th, there will be a ‘Rally For Relief’ event for fire victims in Rod Laver Arena at $34 (AUS) a ticket. It highly likely players such as Roger Federer, who arrives in Melbourne on Thursday, will be among those participating.
CANADIANS AT THE 2020 AUS OPEN
One woman and four men are scheduled to be in the main singles draws at the 2020 Australian Open. Bianca Andreescu is the lone woman to get direct entry along with Denis Shapovalov, Félix Auger-Aliassime, Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil (using a protected ranking of No. 73) in the men’s field.
Andreescu is a bit of a concern at the moment because she had to withdraw from this week’s Auckland WTA International Series event but hopes to be ready for the Aussie Open. She hasn’t played since retiring with a left knee issue at the WTA Finals in Shenzhen, China, on October 30th. The good news is that she has performed remarkably well in the past with little preparation – notably Rogers Cup in Toronto last August when she had played only one match since March but was able to come back and win the title.
It would be great to see the current World No. 6 at Melbourne Park for lots of reasons, including this cool Nike outfit she’s planning to wear.
A year ago Andreescu qualified and then defeated 19-year-old American Whitney Osuigwe before losing to No. 12-ranked Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia.
Here’s a look at the men:
Shapovalov: The current No. 14 is playing his third Australian Open, having reached the second round (Jo-Wilfried Tsonga) in 2018 and the third round (Novak Djokovic) in 2019. He has prepared at the ATP Cup in Brisbane by defeating No. 6-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas and No. 7 Alexander Zverev while losing to No. 18 Alex de Minaur.
Auger-Aliassime: The 19-year-old Montrealer is playing in his first main draw at the Australian Open. Now ranked No. 21, this will be Auger-Aliassime’s seventh Grand Slam appearance – with his only two main-draw wins coming at last year’s Wimbledon.
He lost in the second round of 2019 qualifying to American Christopher Eubanks while battling a knee issue. At the ATP Cup in Brisbane, he has a 1-2 singles record – defeating No. 486-ranked Michail Pervolarakis of Greece but losing to No. 48 John Millman of Australia and No. 35 Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany.
Milos Raonic: This will be the 29-year-old Raonic’s 10th Australian Open, with his best finish coming in 2016 when he lost in five sets to Andy Murray in the semi-finals. This week the No-32-ranked Raonic is seeded fourth at the ATP 250 event in Doha and will play his first match Thursday against No. 81-ranked Corentin Moutet of France.
Vasek Pospisil: The 29 year old from Vernon, B.C., begins a stretch of six months with no points to defend because of the back surgery last January and his ensuing rehab. Ranked No. 148, Pospisil is playing his seventh Aussie Open but only his fifth in the main draw. His best results have been third rounds in 2014 and 2015.
CANADIANS IN AO QUALIFYING
Leylah Annie Fernandez: The 17-year-old Montrealer will be playing in her first Grand Slam event qualifying. She was beaten 7-5, 7-6(3) by No. 95-ranked Paula Badosa of Spain in the qualifying for this week’s WTA event in Auckland. Currently ranked No. 209, Fernandez will be returning to the site of her runner-up finish in last year’s Australian Open junior girls singles event. That was before she won the junior girls title at Roland Garros.
Genie Bouchard: Now No. 262 (but up to 240 with a first-round win in Auckland on Monday) Bouchard is playing the Aussie Open qualifying for the first time since 2013. It’s the fifth Grand Slam qualifying of her career – having also played the qualifying in 2018 at the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open.
Brayden Schnur: The 24 year old from Pickering, Ontario, is playing his third consecutive Australian Open qualifying and still looking for his first win. It’s the No. 103-ranked Schnur’s seventh Grand Slam qualifying, with his only Slam main draw being last year at Wimbledon when he got in as a lucky loser and lost to retiring Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus. This week he was beaten 6-2, 6-3 by No. 157-ranked Alex Bolt of Australia in the opening round of the Bendigo Challenger.
Steven Diez: The 28 year old, who was born in Toronto but now resides in Spain, is playing in his 15th Grand Slam qualifying – his fourth at the Australian Open. Currently at a career-high No. 134 ranking, he has yet to qualify at a Slam.
Peter Polansky: King of the qualifying, Polansky is playing in the 40th Grand Slam qualifying event of his career. This will be his 11th try at the Aussie Open and he reached the main draw as a qualifier in 2009 and then in 2017 and 2018 as a lucky loser – the latter the year he had his lucky loser ‘Grand Slam.’
Now ranked No. 180, Polansky, 31, has played in 10 Grand Slam main draws over the course of his 14-year career.
BOUCHARD GOOD OUT OF GATE
Genie Bouchard got her 2020 off to a positive start with a 7-5, 7-5 victory over No. 72-ranked Kirsten Flipkens on Monday evening at the ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand.
Flipkens had it all her way in the early going – taking a 4-1 lead and serving for the first set at 5-3. But the 33-year-old Belgian hit three consecutive double faults to start that game and Bouchard broke and then finished off the set on a five-game run.
Things went on serve to 5-all in the second set when Bouchard broke and then served out the match to 15.
The result moves her No. 262 ranking up to No. 240 and she will get a chance to go higher when she plays No. 46-ranked Caroline Garcia in round two on Wednesday.
Bouchard’s all round game was impressive – excellent backhand and an improved serve with zero double faults.
Her coach Jorge Todero came out after the first set and said, “everything you’re doing I like, especially (and then he pointed to his head).”
Bouchard and Garcia haven’t played since 2015 – Garcia winning 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 in the quarter-finals of Acapulco in 2014 and Bouchard prevailing 7-5, 6-0 in the 2015 Australian Open third round.
Next week Bouchard will be playing her eighth Australian Open – but for just the second time in the qualifying. Her best main-draw result was in 2014 when she reached the semi-finals and lost to Li Na. Last year she was beaten in the second round by Serena Williams. The Aussie Open is the only Grand Slam where Bouchard has not lost in the first round.
CENTRE STAGE (CENTRE COURT) ROD LAVER ARENA
The women’s final is Saturday February 1st and the men’s on Sunday February 2nd. Is it possible a Canadian tennis player could be joining Bublé as a main attraction in the famous Melbourne arena next month?
AUSSIE POST CARD
These performers in Federation Square on Monday were having a little fun in their down-time.