The 109th edition of the Australian Open will get underway on Monday 8 February after a three-week delay due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In early January, more than 1,700 players and staff were flown into Melbourne on chartered flights, with players permitted up to five hours of practice during their 14-day isolation.
A smaller group of 72 players were fully confined to their hotel rooms in Melbourne after positive coronavirus tests were discovered on their respective flights.
The Victoria Sports Minister Martin Pakula announced that crowds would be at approximately 50 percent capacity, with 390,000 fans expected to pass through the Melbourne Park turnstiles over the two weeks.
The daily limit of 30,000 fans will provide a huge boost for players, organisers, and fans after the 2020 calendar was played almost exclusively without fans following last year’s Grand Slam in Melbourne.
The number of fans will be reduced to 25,000 at the quarter-final stages, with 12,500 fans attending both the afternoon and evening sessions.
Pakula said: “Rod Laver Arena will have an incredible atmosphere, not that different to the atmosphere we’ve seen at all the Opens in the years past.
“It will not be the same but it will be the most significant international event with crowds that the world has seen in many, many months.”
The Australian Open was the first Grand Slam to implement Hawk-Eye and the challenge system in 2007, and will be without line-judges for the first time in favour of electronic line calling.
Who to watch out for
It has been 43 years since an Australian woman won the singles title in Melbourne and world number one Ashleigh Barty, who faces Danka Kovinic in round one, is well placed to break that duck, though there are several other strong contenders.
Sofia Kenin beat Barty in the last four last year and went on to win her first Grand Slam title, with the American seeded fourth and opening against Maddison Inglis as she looks to defend her crown.
Global superstar and reigning US Open champion Naomi Osaka will be the third seed and will hope to regain the title she won in 2019, though has a tricky opener against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
Second seed and two-time Major winner Simona Halep will be hoping to go one better than her runner-up spot in 2018 and starts her campaign against Lizzie Cabrera.
Also contending is seven-time champion Serena Williams, aiming for a historic 24th Grand Slam title and opening against Laura Siegemund, though once again the women’s draw is open and well and truly up for grabs.
The big favourite for the men’s singles title is once again Novak Djokovic, with the Serbian aiming for an 18th Major title and record-extending ninth title in Melbourne.
The world number one plays Jeremy Chardy in round one and has never lost a final at the event and is the two-time defending champion, though the likes of second seed Rafael Nadal and third seed Dominic Thiem will be his main rivals.
Victory for Nadal would be a 21st Grand Slam title, a new record in men’s tennis, and would also see him become the first man to win all four Grand Slam tournaments on multiple occasions.
The Spaniard starts against Laslo Dere.
Thiem, who plays Mikhail Kukushkin to begin with, lost to Djokovic in a tight five-set final last year and will be full of confidence after winning a maiden Major at the US Open last September.
He could also become world number two for the first time if he wins the title and other results go his way.
Fourth seed Daniil Medvedev opens his campaign against Vasek Pospisil is the person most likely to challenge the top three seeds, though the likes of Stefanos Tsitsipas could also feature.
After their two-week quarantine period, all players have the opportunity to have some much-needed match practice ahead of the first Grand Slam of 2021.
ATP players are in action in the ATP Cup, the Great Ocean Road Open or the Murray River Open, whilst WTA players are competing in the Gippsland Trophy, the Yarra Valley Classic or the Grampians Trophy in the week ahead of the Australian Open.
The Grampians Trophy was set up for WTA players who were forced to hard quarantine in their hotel rooms after coming into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
The Australian Open will be broadcast live on Eurosport in the UK and it all kicks off on Monday.