For most players the annual trip to the Australian Open in January is a timely transition from the cold of winter to the warmth of summer – with the caveat that the pleasant climate change is preceded by about 24 hours spent on antipodean-bound airplanes.
This applies mainly to players from the northern hemisphere and at the 2018 Aussie Open in Melbourne they were 85 per cent of the men’s main draw and 92 per cent of women’s.
There’s no other Grand Slam event that’s as welcoming partly because of the friendly folk Down Under, partly because of the weather and partly because each new year brings renewal and an excitement to be back on the tennis merry-go-round after the end-of-season break.
Looking ahead to the 2019 Aussie Open, running from January 14 to 27, there will be four Canadian players in the main draws and as many as eight in the qualifying.
There has been a major change for 2019 – the women’s qualifying draw has been expanded to 128 and is now the same as the men’s.
At the 2018 Australian Open, the final main-draw cut-off ranking was No. 110 for the women (No. 113 in 2017) and No. 103 for the men (No. 105 in 2017).
Genie Bouchard: As low as No. 194 in June, Bouchard made a surge up the rankings with some solid results in the second half of the year – including qualifying and a second-round finish at Wimbledon, a semi-final at the WTA International event in Gstaad, qualifying and second round at the US Open and a semi-final at the WTA International event in Luxembourg last month. That helped boost her ranking to its current No. 89. Being main draw at Melbourne Park in January will end a run of three Grand Slam events when she had to qualify. It will be Bouchard’s sixth Australian Open with her best results being a semi-final in 2014 and a quarterfinal in 2015,
Bianca Andreescu: The 18-year-old is ranked No. 178, after starting the season at No. 182, and is assured a spot in the qualifying come January at Melbourne Park. It will be her eighth Grand Slam event qualifying, with her only main draw coming at Wimbledon in 2017. This year she will motivated to improve on a year ago at the Aussie Open when she had one of her poorest performances – losing 6-1, 6-1 to No. 190-ranked Romanian veteran Alexandra Dulgheru in the first round.
Rebecca Marino: It’s been a remarkable comeback year for Marino – starting from scratch to finishing 2018 at about No. 189. Unfortunately that No. 189 ranking will become about No. 220 when 2019 starts because the International Tennis Federation will no longer be awarding WTA ranking points for $15,000 tournaments, and all points earned at those events in 2017 are being removed beginning in January. They will be converted to ITF World Tennis Ranking points as part of a new pathway, especially for juniors, to higher level tournaments. Normally Marino would have kept the 38 points she won in February last year at four $15,000 events in Antalya, Turkey, until the same time in 2019.
In 2018, the cut-off for the Aussie Open qualifying was No. 216 (No. 251 in 2017), which would have put Marino on the cusp. But with the women’s qualifying in 2019 expanded to 128 players, Marino will be safely in as the cut-off should be somewhere in the neighbourhood of the No. 259 it was for men this past year.
Marino, 28 on December 16, is currently rehabbing a back issue and should be recovered in time for the 2019 season. She played in the Aussie Open main draw in 2011-12-13. In 2010, she lost in the first round of qualifying – 6-1, 4-6, 6-2 to then No. 118-ranked Angelique Kerber.
Katherine Sebov: The 19-year-old from Toronto, who turns 20 on January 5th, is now safely inside the qualifying cut-off for the 2019 Aussie Open. A victory at the National Bank Challenger in Saguenay, Que., last month gave her the boost she needed to make it into what will be her first qualifying draw at a Grand Slam event. After starting the year at No. 272, she will finish at about No. 217.
Francoise Abanda: Entering the year ranked No. 123, an uninspired 2018 has seen the 21-year-old Montrealer’s ranking drop to approximately No. 225.
She will be in the Aussie Open qualifying and playing it for the fourth time but has failed to make it past the second round in her previous attempts – 2015, 2017 and 2018.
The Australian Open main draw remains the only one the four Grand Slams she has yet to play – having reached the second round at Roland Garros and Wimbledon in 2017 and played the first round at the 2014 US Open.
Carol Zhao: The 23-year-old reached a career high No. 131 in June but took a tough hit last week when she failed to defend 140 points from winning a Challenger in Shenzhen, China, 12 months ago. Her ranking dropped from No. 210 to No. 295, making it unlikely she will be in the Aussie Open qualifying come January.
Milos Raonic: After finishing 2017 at No. 24, the 28-year-old (on Dec. 27) wound up at No. 18 this year. A variety of injuries prevented him from climbing higher. He will be playing his eighth consecutive Aussie Open and could possibly be seeded in the top 16 if two players ahead of him pull out – with Juan Martin del Potro and his fractured right kneecap being one obvious possibility.
Denis Shapovalov: After ending the season at No. 27, up from No. 51 at the start of 2018, the 19-year-old Shapovalov will be seeded at the Australian Open for the fourth Grand Slam tournament in a row. The 2018 year was his first playing all four Grand Slams and he finished with a 5-4 record. In 2018, his first Australian Open, he suffered a hard-fought 3-6, 6-3, 1-6, 7-6(4), 7-5 loss in the second round to No. 15-ranked Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Vasek Pospisil: The 28-year-old’s ranking rose from No. 108 at the end of 2017 to its current No. 70. A year ago, at No. 105, Pospisil barely missed the Aussie Open main draw cut-off but managed to qualify. In the first round he lost 6-2, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6(5) to eventual runner-up Marin Cilic. He will be in the main draw for the fifth time in six years and has twice (2014 and 2015) reached the third round at Melbourne Park.
MEN – QUALIFYING
Felix Auger-Aliassime: The 18-year-old Montrealer, currently with a live ATP ranking of No. 107, looks like he will just miss the main draw Aussie Open cut-off, which was No. 103 this year. If he does, he will wind up playing in the fourth Grand Slam qualifying of his young career – US Open 2017 (2R Q), French Open 2018 (2R Q) and US Open 2018 (qualified and lost to Shapovalov in the first round). A right knee injury that kept him out of his final Challenger event in Mouilleron Le Captif, France, last week could prove to be the difference between qualifying and being main draw at Melbourne Park in January.
Peter Polansky: The 30-year-old Polansky flirted with the top-100 in 2018 – reaching a career high No. 110 in June before ending the year at roughly No. 122. He will be playing in his tenth Aussie Open qualifying and has made the main draw three times – including the past two years via the Lucky Loser route.
Brayden Schnur: The 23-year-old started 2018 ranked No. 217 and will end it no worse than No. 220 – he won his first round at the Bangalore Challenger on Tuesday. That will be good enough to get him into the Aussie Open qualies for the second year in a row. It will be his fourth Grand Slam qualifying – he lost in the first round at the 2017 US Open and the 2018 Australian Open but reached the third round at Wimbledon last summer.
Filip Peliwo: The loss of points from winning the Knoxville (Tenn.) Challenger a year ago saw the 24-year-old’s ranking plummet from No. 181 to No. 252 on Monday. He was beaten in the first round of the $150,000 Challenger in Bangalore, India, this week and his live ATP ranking is now No. 262. He was hoping to play in his seventh career Grand Slam qualifying at the 2019 Aussie Open but that appears up in the air at the moment with No. 259 having been the qualifying cut-off this year.
Doing an appearance for her watch sponsor, Tag Heuer, at the O2 Arena in Prague last week, Petra Kvitova was given a painting of herself and asked to have a brief hit with its the creator, a certain “Hubert Schmidt.”
If you haven’t seen it – take a look. It’s one of the more imaginative sponsor spots – and includes a surprise ending.
During the Buffalo Bills – New York Jets game in the National Football League (NFL) on Sunday, Buffalo placekicker Steven Hauschka was preparing to attempt a 54-yard field goal in the second quarter.
The CBS-TV commentators asked their sideline reporter Jay Feely about whether kickers used a different motion if they were kicking from beyond 50 yards. The 42-year-old Feely, a former NFL placekicker with six different teams between 2001 and 2014, suggested that the technique was not that different except that there might more of a grunt “like Monica Seles.”
Who would have suspected that the name of the 44-year-old Seles, who last played on the WTA Tour in 2003, would ever have been mentioned during an NFL broadcast?
The week of Canada’s Davis Cup World Group Playoff in September, we dropped in on the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) to see if tennis – and Canadian tennis – got any traction among the film-goers.