January 16, 2021

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Marino returns, Bouchard seeded at 2021 AO qualifying

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In this already unusual 2021, the Australian Open women’s qualifying tournament being held in … Dubai barely makes you bat an eye.

But thousands of miles away from its regular home at Melbourne Park, 128 women will battle for the right to travel Down Under, quarantine for 14 days – and earn $100,000 AUD even if they lose in the first round of the main draw.

The four-day event begins Sunday and ends on Wednesday, Jan. 13.

And the draw, released Saturday, offers some intriguing comebacks and storylines.

Only two Canadians in the draw

The first major of the 2021 season harkens the return of former top-40 player Rebecca Marino.

Marino, using a protected ranking of No. 170, hasn’t played since July, 2019 because of injury, through the pandemic and after the loss of beloved father Joe to cancer.

But she’s back.

She faces Romania’s Jaqueline Cristian in the first round.

As for Genie Bouchard, she is seeded No. 25 and has an absolute sweetheart of a draw.

Konjuh returns to Slam play

Ana Konjuh, the former No. 20 from Croatia who has struggled incredibly too much with injuries for a 23-year-old, returns to the Grand Slam level for the first time since Wimbledon in 2018.

Ranked No. 476 after playing a fair bit at the lower ITF levels towards the end of 2020, Konjuh was only a couple of spots out of the qualifying draw with a protected ranking of No. 255.

She has a tough opener against No. 4 seed Anna-Lena Friedsam of Germany, who knows a thing or two about injuries herself.

Juvan the No. 1 seed

The catbird’s seat goes to No. 1 seed Kaja Juvan of Slovenia, who has to play the qualifying even though you know that spots will open up in the Australian Open main draw in the month before the tournament begins.

Notably, the case of Dayana Yastremska, who will be looking to defend herself with the appropriate authorities after a positive doping test led to a provisional suspension.

It’s unlikely, even if she can clear her name, that this can happen in a short-enough time period to allow her to travel to Australia and get through a 14-day quarantine before Feb. 8.

But that’s how it goes.

Tough draws for Babos and Schmiedlova

Timea Babos and Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, who have both been in the top 30 in their careers, are in the same section of the draw. So only one can emerge.

Tennis is a forgetful mistress in that way. It was only a couple of months ago that Schmiedlova beat Venus Williams AND Victoria Azarenka back to back at Roland Garros.