“DNP” is the acronym for “Did Not Play” and it appears all too frequently these days on results pages and players’ records in all sports.
With the 2018 Australian Open fast approaching, DNP threatens to apply for too many of the marquee names in tennis not named Roger Federer, Venus Williams or Maria Sharapova.
Of concern in the men’s field this year is Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka, all of whom are questionable, as are Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka among the women.
As regards the men, there had been the (mistaken?) sense that the four players mentioned above would simply step back onto the tennis merry-go-round just as easily as Federer did a year ago after not playing since Wimbledon the previous July. Now, with the days dwindling, none of them will enter the Australian Open on January 15th with anything like the preparation Federer had 12 months ago when he played Hopman Cup in Perth. There, partnering Belinda Bencic on the Swiss team, he convincingly beat Dan Evans and Richard Gasquet in singles and lost a two-and-a-half hour, could-have-gone-either-way, top-notch 7-6(1), 6-7(4), 7-6(4) match to Alexander Zverev.
The way it looks now Djokovic, if his sensitive right elbow is up to the test, will only play the Tiebreak Tens exhibition (three potential rounds of match tiebreaks on Margaret Court Arena on Wednesday January 10) before the Aussie Open. The same goes for Nadal and Wawrinka. After pulling out of the Brisbane International with his still troublesome hip on Tuesday, Murray’s short and long term future is very much in doubt.
Among the four men, it is world no. 1 Nadal who would appear to be the best placed to make a mark at Melbourne Park because he last played in November at the ATP Finals in London. The only issue for him is if he can get over the ongoing tendinitis in his right knee. Djokovic, Wawrinka and Murray have not been involved in a competitive match since Wimbledon more than six months ago. How would it be possible to return in the often difficult playing conditions in Melbourne, especially with the best-of-five-set matches right off the bat, and be in good enough form to prevail against top competition?
With Djokovic’s elbow, Murray’s hip and the knees of both Nadal and Wawrinka being question marks, at this moment the ‘over/under’ on how many of the four actually play the Australian Open – and win one round – would be two and a half. The sense here is that the under is likely going to win that bet.
As for Williams and Azarenka – Williams because of lack of practice time following childbirth in September and Azarenka due to a custody battle with the father of her one-year-old son that forces her to stay in California – both look doubtful. How could Williams, as truly great as she is, not play a tour match in almost a year and return and successfully defend her Aussie Open title?
“I don’t know if I’m totally ready,” the 36-year-old Williams said last week after an exhibition match against Jelena Ostapenko in Abu Dhabi. “When I come back I want to be totally competing for championships.”
As for Azarenka, she last played at Wimbledon and would enter the Australian Open after a tumultuous period in her life and without any match form.
Here are the Australian Open numbers for the four men and two women who are questionable: the men have eight titles and eight final appearances among them over the last 10 years (Federer won the other two titles) while the women have nine combined titles (seven for Williams) and one final appearance between them since 2003.
That’s significant dominance of the event in recent times and tennis fans can only hope that as many of them as possible can make it to Rod Laver Arena fit enough to compete at a level that is somewhere approaching their best.
Canadians Down Under
Canada, represented by Genie Bouchard and Vasek Pospisil, lost its opening Hopman Cup round on Sunday, dropping a 2-1 decision to Australia. Daria Gavrilova beat Bouchard 6-1, 6-4, while Thanasi Kokkinakis defeated Pospisil 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.
Bouchard, experimenting with a new Head racquet and with new coach Harold Solomon (a former world No. 5 in 1980) in tow, looked shaky in the first set but was a little better in the second against the no. 25-ranked Gavrilova. She later said she felt “super rusty” and “not like myself” in her first outing of the new year.
Pospisil’s competitive match with the no. 209-ranked Kokkinakis came down to single poor service games in the first and third sets leading to breaks that proved decisive.
On Wednesday, after a couple of days off, the Canadians face tough opposition in Germans Angelique Kerber and Alexander Zverev. The opponents for their final round-robin match on Friday will be Belgians Elise Mertens and David Goffin.
Things don’t look very promising for Bouchard and Pospisil. But if they can manage to win one singles they will have a good chance in the deciding doubles as they showed in their 4-3(1), 4-3(4) win over Gavrilova and Kokkinakis.
Denis Shapovalov will likely not be pleased with his opening-round 6-7(5), 7-6(4), 6-4 loss to Kyle Edmund in the first round of the Brisbane International on Tuesday. Key points in the contest came at 3-2 for Shapovalov in the first set tiebreak when he hit a cold backhand service return winner and was able to make the mini-break hold up. Then for Edmund it was when he led 4-3 in the second set tiebreak and Shapovalov badly botched a leaping overhead near the net to give the Brit the mini-break he was then able to maintain.
Shapovalov took a comfort break at the end of the second set and returned to play an abysmal game on serve – losing it on four points – two of them being double faults.
In the end it was a mature performance by the 22-year-old Edmund – helped by some impressive serving in the final set – that probably made the difference for the no. 50-ranked Brit. But Shapovalov certainly showed he belonged and will move on to Auckland for the ATP 250 next week knowing that if he tightens up his volleys and makes a few more service returns he can be competitive with anyone.
There was some pretty serious mispronouncing of Shapovalov’s name on Tuesday – but nothing quite as bad as the public address announcer introducing him in Brisbane. See the moment below.
(TennisTV 🎥) pic.twitter.com/PvXPor8NYc
— Sarah Claire (@BerdVolleys) January 2, 2018
Milos Raonic returns to action on Wednesday (7 p.m. locally and 4 a.m. ET in Canada) when he plays 18-year-old Alex de Minaur, the Aussie who was beaten by Shapovalov in the 2016 Wimbledon Junior Boys singles final.
On Monday, de Minaur, lean of stature but a resolute competitor, upset no. 44-ranked Steve Johnson 7-6(6), 6-4. He saved five set points in the first set – including one with a breathtaking running forehand pass – and came back from a break down in the second to break Johnson in consecutive service games to take the match. Raonic has not played in almost three months (October 5th in Tokyo) following a right calf injury and will have to wary of de Minaur’s moxie and dogged determination.
Peter Polansky qualified for the main draw at the Brisbane International by defeating compatriot Filip Peliwo 6-2, 6-2 and Yannick Hanfmann of Germany 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.
On Tuesday might in the hometown of his opponent John Millman, he was beaten 7-6(4), 6-0 by the no. 128-ranked Aussie wild card. The match on centre court at Pat Rafter Arena was very close in the first set until Millman was rewarded for more aggressive play in the tiebreak that decided it. The no. 137 Polansky will now move on to play next week’s qualifying for the Australian Open.
Brayden Schnur won his opening round at the $75,000 Challenger event in Playford (Adelaide), Australia, with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Yoshihito Nishioka and will now meet Oscar Otte of Germany. Ranked no. 220, the 22-year-old next travels to Melbourne for the Australian Open qualifying – his second Grand Slam qualifying event after the 2017 US Open.
Frank Dancevic advanced to the second round of the Playford Challenger with a 6-4, 7-5 victory over Sekou Bangoura of the U.S. before losing 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-6(1) to 17-year-old Sebastian Korda, son of 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda. Dancevic, using a protected ranking of no. 241, is almost certain to get into the qualifying at the Australian Open next week.
Filip Peliwo: Following his loss to Polansky in Brisbane, the 23-year-old from Vancouver moves on to Melbourne where he will play his third Grand Slam qualifying event – after Wimbledon 2013 and Australian Open 2014.
Bianca Andreescu is playing the $25,000 Challenger event in Playford and is the eighth seed. She will face 19-year-old Jacqueline Adina Cristian of Romania in her opening match. Next week the 17-year-old (ranked No. 189) will be in Melbourne for the qualifying, completing the cycle of each of the Grand Slam qualifying events. She qualified at Wimbledon last year.
Carol Zhao was beaten 6-2, 6-2 in the first round of qualifying for the WTA International Series event in Shenzhen, China, by promising 19-year-old Russian Anna Blinkova. Zhao, 22 and ranked no. 146 , now heads for Melbourne where she will play in her first ever Grand Slam qualifying event – at a tournament where she won the Junior Girls doubles title with Croat Anna Konjuh in 2013.
Rogers Cup Access
It’s been a long time coming but this summer tennis fans heading for the Sobeys Stadium will be able to arrive directly on the York University campus at the Pioneer Village subway stop.
The extension of the Toronto Transit Commission’s no. 1 line was opened last month and the Pioneer Village station is about a 10-minute walk from the site of the 2018 men’s Rogers Cup from August 4-12.
Australian Post Card
The most obvious tourist attractions for visitors arriving Sydney are the Harbour Bridge and the nearby Opera House.
Probably third would be Bondi Beach, not too far from the entrance to the world famous harbour and the best-known beach in Australia. The picture here was taken two days after Christmas in the late afternoon with temperature not much above 20 degrees. But that still didn’t seem dampen the enthusiasm of those revelling in summer Down Under.
Note: The feature image is from Federation Square in downtown Melbourne, with 2017 champion Federer front and centre and the acrobatic Gael Monfils featured on the side.