With six weeks to go until the delayed 2021 Australian Open, a lot will change.
But as singles entries have closed for this most challenging of Grand Slams, it’s clear that the players are not dissuaded by the strict conditions and short lead up.
On the men’s side, only a pair of veterans have not signed on for the dance.
At 37, and still in the top 100 (by a couple of spots), Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber will miss the Australian Open for only the second time since … 2005.
He’s 22-14 in Melbourne in his career. And he’s reached the third round or better six times, almost always losing to top-ranked opposition.
Verdasco’s Australian Open streak ends at 17
The other missing man is Fernando Verdasco of Spain.
Also 37 (a month younger than Kohlschreiber), the lefty has played the tournament 17 consecutive times. He reached the third round the last two years, and his epic semifinal against countryman Rafael Nadal in 2009 will not soon be forgotten.
Nor will his choice of practice-court attire (or non-attire).
Verdasco’s streak of 67 consecutive Grand Slams played ended in August, when he missed the US Open. He also didn’t play Roland Garros. His first major main draw was Wimbledon in 2003.
Other than those two, the field is full. Which of course doesn’t mean there won’t be no-shows.
Notable among those with question marks is Roger Federer, who is returning in 2021 after missing the entire year after the 2020 Australian Open. Even with the three-week delay, it’s hard to fathom he’ll be fit and ready to play best-of-five sets in time.
Included on the list is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The veteran Frenchman has maintained his ranking at No. 62 because of the freeze. But he hasn’t played since opening losses in Doha and Melbourne early in 2020 (the latter a retirement).
The current cutoff stands at No. 104. Yen-Hsun Lu (doesn’t it feel he’s been on a protected ranking for years?) and Mackenzie McDonald are both in on protecteds; Joao Sousa is the first alternate.
The women are all aboard
Meanwhile, the women are ready to go.
Almost every eligible player has entered. In the last days before the deadline, Caroline Garcia of France was the lone holdout not officially entered. But even she is on the list now.
The protected ranking players are Yaroslava Shvedova (No. 47), Vera Zvonareva (No. 78), Katie Boulter (No. 85) and Mona Barthel (No. 101).
Missing are Carla Suárez Navarro, who is battling cancer, but who also wrapped up her career in 2020. As well, Taylor Townsend, expecting her first child in March, obviously won’t be joining the party.
At No. 102, German Andrea Petkovic is the last one straight in.
Missing among those who are just below the initial cutoff and would have been likely to end up in the main draw are Monica Puig and Kristie Ahn.
Kiki Bertens signed on
World No. 9 Kiki Bertens, who had Achilles surgery in late October and said then she would be missing the Australian swing. She also has entered the tuneup event the week before at Melbourne Park.
Since, per her Instagram, she has just started working out in the gym, that seems … aspirational. But it will give her some motivation as she works to get back on tour from a tough surgery.
Serena Williams is also entered in both the Melbourne WTA event, and the Australian Open.
Lucky losers list open
The players have to finalize their travel and team members by Wednesday.
And the window for withdrawals that allowed alternates to move into the main draw is closing quickly.
The fact that the qualifying is being played so far ahead of the tournament itself will hurt those players on the bubble. And with it, their opportunity to earn a minimum of $100,000 AUD, even if they lose in the first round.
The way it will work – at least for the women – is that the alternates can only move into the main draw until the start of the qualifying in Dubai on Jan. 9.
After that, any withdrawals – and you know there will be some late ones – will be filled by lucky losers.
The challenge there is that only six lucky losers will be allowed to travel and enter Australia for those purposes.
After that, it gets interesting.
If those six spots are spoken for in the month between the qualifying and the start of the Australian Open, the next players in line will be Australian players who competed in the qualifying – no matter how early they lost.
But if that supply gets used up, they are down to the doubles player who are in the main draw in Melbourne, but also played in the singles qualifying in Dubai.
If it gets down further than that, any doubles players in the Australian Open main draw would be next.