Earlier today, the first grand slam tournament of the year started in Melbourne, Australia. This year's Australian Open is special for more reasons than I can list. Serena Williams can become the most successful tennis player of all time, Rafael Nadal can equal Roger Federer's 20 grand slam wins and rising Canadian tennis star Mihaela Buzarnescu is making her comeback after 15 months of absence. However to top all of this, the tournament at Melbourne park is mostly special because of the weird circumstances it is being held in. An Australian Open in February instead of January, a qualifying tournament held in Qatar instead of in Australia, mandatory quarantine for everyone arriving in Melbourne and even extended or more severe quarantine for some players who were on one particular flight. All of this obviously has to do with the COVID pandemic.
Australia is in a situation where they have a strong grip on the virus and have been able to lead somewhat normal lives for some time now. This is mostly done through very harsh travelling restrictions and there was no exception for the incoming tennis players. Players arriving from abroad had to go into a 14-day quarantine in which they were only allowed to leave their hotel for 5 hours a day in order to train. Unless you were unlucky and travelled to Melbourne on a flight that contained a COVID patient, in that case you just had to stay in your hotel. Quickly after all of these restrictions were announced, several players voiced their opinions about the fairness of this system, claiming that the top player (with more money and resources) were able to get an advantage by putting themselves in different hotels with different accommodations. It is clear that at best the athletes had a difficult preparation for this tournament and at worst had no preparation at all. There is a story of a doubles player who wasn't able to practice with his partner at all.
So what does this mean for the tournament? Who are the players that benefit the most from this situation? What we are left with is a unique and deeply interesting case study about the importance of preparation and rhythm before a major tournament. Maybe, older players will do better because experience can replace preparation to some degree. On the other hand, talent might be a more important factor now, with talented players doing a lot better because you don't have to prepare your talent, it is always ready or possibly players who rely less on physical abilities and more on technical abilities will get ahead. From a sport psychological perspective, this might be one of the most interesting Australian Opens ever, because we get to see a lot of players out of their comfort zone and we get to see how they react to this situation. My take is that Australian players are going to do a lot better than expected because they are the ones that had more normal preparations. At the time of writing this, 5 out of the 9 Australians have survived the first round, many of whom are qualifiers or wild card entries. Obviously that doesn't say anything yet, but it is a start.
I will definitely be following the Australian Open closely and try to analyze any patterns I see!