After being delayed by three weeks, the 2021 Australian Open begins on Monday, with 128 men and 128 women vying for singles glory.
The decision to hold the event has been controversial, and a day of warm-up event play was suspended this week.
Nevertheless, the first Grand Slam event of 2021 will kick off as tennis looks to adjust as much as possible during the pandemic.
One welcome factor in Melbourne is the return of spectators in large numbers, with the event running at 50% capacity, and tennis coach Mandy Bishop believes this could be an advantage to some.
She said: “In terms of having fans there it will be tremendous. It will be a huge advantage for the home players like Ash Barty, Alex de Minaur, Jordan Thompson, Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic.
“Melbourne is a very strong Greek city so for Stefanos Tsitsipas, for Maria Sakkari, they will definitely benefit. Also, Grigor Dimitrov will have an advantage. There were lots of Bulgarian fans at the Murray River and they really do make themselves heard.”
A qualified elite-level coach who once played in Wimbledon qualifying, Bishop is well-placed to predict who will win and she is backing Novak Djokovic and Simona Halep.
She said: “It’s so hard to go against Djokovic. He is so, so successful, particularly in Melbourne with his eight titles.
“If you take Rafa and his success at Roland Garros then Djokovic has Melbourne as his Major winner, so I would never back against Djokovic.
“I also wouldn’t go against Halep here. She is a super athlete. She’s already won a Slam so she’s got that monkey off her back. You will always have to beat Halep because she won’t give it to you.
“The Americans will be strong. I didn’t expect Sofia Kenin to win last year so she could go on a run but I would go for Halep or Barty.”
British hopes at the Australian Open rest largely on the hopes of Johanna Konta, who will be 13th seed in the women’s draw, though Bishop does not expect much of her or any of the six Brits involved.
She said: “If Konta is confident, she could just blast through people because of her serve and ball striking. I could equally see her losing two and two in the first round.
“Any player that’s got any slice and dice to their game and variety will just drive Jo round the twist because she will just try to hit the ball harder and harder.
“The more robotic, one-dimensional players will certainly fear Dan Evans. He could easily make the second week I would say which I think for him will be the target.
“It depends on the draw for Cameron Norrie. He is very competent but he hasn’t got anything that can hurt a good player. If they’re off then he can stick around, he’s resilient but he would have to get a good draw.
“Katie Boulter has had a tough time because she has been injured for so long. She beat Coco Gauff the other day so she’s in good form. If she can sneak a win and get some momentum she could do okay.
“Who knows with Heather Watson. She has got some feel and some touch. She’s got more shots than the other British women but it doesn’t seem to have taken off for Heather and it’s difficult to know why.
“Francesca Jones is a phenomenal story. If she could win a round, it would be a story in terms of overcoming adversity and perseverance and grit.”
The first round of the Australian Open starts on Monday, with UK coverage through Eurosport.
Featured image credit: Valmont1702 via Wikimedia Commons