Barty centre stage for Open lift-off
A cloud of uncertainty has been lifted from the Australian Open, clearing the way for local favourite Ash Barty to shine on the opening day.
The Federal Court’s ruling on Sunday against the now-deported defending men’s champion Novak Djokovic ended an ugly saga that overshadowed the build-up to the first grand slam of the year.
Many players had grown weary of the visa cancellation soap opera hogging the headlines, with even Djokovic admitting the spotlight on his off-court battle had made him ‘uncomfortable’.
The world No.1 was scheduled to begin his quest for a 10th title at Melbourne Park against fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic on Monday night.
Italy’s Salvatore Caruso, who lost during qualifying and was then put on stand-by in case of injury, will instead take Djokovic’s place in that match, which has been shifted to an outdoor court.
Women’s world No.1 Barty returns to Rod Laver Arena as the headline act in prime time, followed by the all-German contest between men’s third seed Alexander Zverev and Daniel Altmaier.
Barty takes on Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko and is a hot favourite to break Australia’s infamous 44-year Open title drought.
‘It feels like an eternity since I played here at home,’ Barty said, having fallen to Czech Karolina Muchova in the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park a year ago.
‘It’s exciting going into it. I’m very fortunate and grateful that I’m in the draw and I’ve got a chance just like everyone else.’
Women’s defending champion Naomi Osaka will take on unseeded Colombian Camila Osorio in the second match of the day session at Rod Laver Arena, before 2009 men’s champion Rafael Nadal begins his bid for a record 21st grand slam title against American Marcos Giron.
Australian women’s No.2 Ajla Tomljanovic and local men John Millman, Thanasi Kokkinakis, Aleksandar Vukic and James Duckworth are also in singles action on Monday.
Kokkinakis meets Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann, fresh from claiming his first ATP Tour title in front of home fans in Adelaide on Saturday.
Greek fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, one of the most outspoken critics of Djokovic, tried to turn attention back to the game over the weekend as Australia’s Alex de Minaur added his name to the list of players who lamented the focus on off-court matters.
Spanish legend Nadal, who is tied with Djokovic and the injured Roger Federer with 20 major titles, declared the Australian Open bigger than any individual player.
Djokovic released a statement late on Sunday in response to the Federal Court ruling after it was made public.
‘I am uncomfortable that the focus of the past weeks has been on me and I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love,’ Djokovic said in the statement before he flew out of the country.
‘I would like to wish the players, tournament officials, staff, volunteers and fans all the best for the tournament.’