Australian Open | Focus shifts to on-court action

The Australian Open, dogged by unprecedented controversy and confusion, finally gets under way on Monday — without men’s defending champion Novak Djokovic.

Italy’s 150th-ranked Salvatore Caruso, the so-called ‘lucky loser’, has been selected to take Djokovic’s place in the draw.

The Serbian World No. 1’s decision not to get vaccinated against COVID-19 sparked a saga which dragged through the courts and culminated in him facing deportation on Sunday.

It halted, for now, his dream of becoming the first man to win 21 Grand Slam titles.

That opportunity is now solely with Rafael Nadal. Fellow 20-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer is injured and not in Australia.

The 35-year-old Spaniard Nadal won the warm-up Melbourne Summer Set title on his return from a long injury lay-off and Covid.

Nadal, who faces American Marcos Giron in the first round on Monday, is seeded six this year and in the same quarter of the draw as World No. 3 Alexander Zverev.

With Djokovic out, World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev — last year’s finalist who won his first Major at the US Open in September — will start favourite.

Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Andrey Rublev round out the top six.

Hot favourite

Women’s World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty is the hot favourite to break through and win a Grand Slam on home soil for the first time.

With American great Serena Williams missing through injury, defending champion Naomi Osaka, seeded 13, could be her main threat.

Reigning Wimbledon champion Barty capped a perfect preparation by convincingly winning the Adelaide International, her first tournament since the US Open, and said she was “chomping at the bit”.

World No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka is in crisis, self-destructing early at two warm-up tournaments where her serve deserted her.

Garbine Muguruza, Barbora Krejcikova, Maria Sakkari and Anett Kontaveit are all also considered contenders.

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