The Australian Open gets underway this weekend in the unusual setting of the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex in Doha, Qatar.
In an innovative way to overcome the logistical nightmare created by the need to quarantine all participants, organisers of the Australian Open opted for the first time to hold this part of the tournament offshore and fly back to Australia only the 16 successful players (and six alternatives) in both the men’s and the women’s section.
The tyranny of distance, however, has not diminished the size of the Australian contingent, with 11 men and nine women taking part. Of these, three men and two women have qualified for the tournament by dint of their current world ranking, while the remaining players have received wild cards from Tennis Australia.
While it would be an upset of gargantuan proportions if two of the younger talented male and female youngsters made it through to the final draw, it will no doubt provide all four players with valuable experience as they embark on their careers as professional tennis players.
Dane Sweeny (ranked 792) and Tristan Schoolkate (839) and girls Olivia Gadecki and Charlotte Kempenaers-Pocz (yet to obtain a WTA ranking) may all be names to look out for in the future.
Mind you, it won’t be easy for any of the Australians, as the men’s draw includes six players who all at some time during their career have been ranked in the top 20 as singles players. This includes Australia’s own Bernard Tomic, who has been trying to make it through the qualifiers for the past two seasons and is one of the three Aussie men to claim direct entry into the qualifying event along with Andrew Harris and Max Purcell.
Jason Kubler and Akira Santillan are also ranked in the 200s but needed a wild card to ensure entry.
Well-known players Matthew Ebden and John Patrick-Smith are currently ranked in the low 300s and head up the list of the remaining male Australian entrants that also includes Blake Mott and Rinky Hijikata.
The women will be well represented by Kimberley Burrell – in her first tournament back from injury – and the up-and-coming Ellen Perez, who gained direct entry. Heading the wild card entrants will be Seone Mendez and Storm Sanders, who are both ranked in the 200s, followed by Abbie Myers, Ivana Popovic and Alexandra Bozovic.
Let’s hope that the likes of Tommy Robredo, Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz, former No. 18 Andreas Seppi, Ernests Gulbis, Viktor Troicki and Ivo Karlovic don’t crowd out all the young (and not so young) Aussies aiming for a seat on the way home.