With the first round of the Australian Open wrapping up this morning, plenty of storylines have been written with round two set to begin later this evening.
The favorites on each side looked sublime while the effect of quarantine has really hindered some of the top players as well.
Favorites Looking Dominant
On the women's side, the five favorites, Ashleigh Barty, Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams, Simona Halep, and Garbiñe Muguruza, steamrolled their opponents en route to the second round. The five women dropped a combined 12 games, highlighted by the number one seed's double bagel of Danka Kovinic last night in Rod Laver Arena.
These five look primed to make a deep run, and it is Barty who avoids the remaining four as they are all in the bottom half (including a potential fourth-round clash between Osaka and Muguruza).
On the men's side, the three favorites of Novak Djokovic, Daniil Medvedev, and Rafael Nadal all took care of business in swift fashion. Nadal was the one with the most question marks heading into the first major of the year citing a sore back, the reason he was kept out of playing in the ATP Cup.
A comfortable scoreline against Laslo Djere may have eased some concerns, but the world number two said he has had to make adjustments to his game, especially on the serve. So that is something to keep an eye on later this week.
Just like any major, seeded players were upset in the opening round. However, preparation this year was much different with players having to quarantine once landing in Australia. Also, the halt in play derailed the momentum of many players who were having excellent starts to 2020.
Victoria Azarenka spoke post-match after her loss to Jessica Pegula and cited that this was not the best preparation for her.
"Was that the best preparation for me? No. The biggest impact for me personally has been not being able to have fresh air. That really took a toll."
I don't know how to prepare after two weeks in quarantine. I don't have a blueprint how to prepare. It's all about trying to figure it out and I didn't figure it out. Not this time."
After a quick start, Azarenka was pegged back by Pegula, and you began to see the physical toll it took on her, taking multiple medical timeouts in the match.
Gael Monfils lost in five sets to Emil Ruusuvuori. He forced a fifth set after winning the fourth, but the Frenchman could not complete the comeback.
The world number 11 kicked off 2020 with a flourish with a fourth-round showing in Melbourne, followed by titles in Montpelier and Rotterdam. Since the stoppage of play in tennis, the Frenchman's form has dipped massively.
As someone who is a showman and feeds off of the crowd, as well as the long stoppage of play, it clearly has affected the 34-year-old. In an emotional press conference following his loss, Monfils asked reporters to show "mercy" and hoped to "get up and tell you that this nightmare is over but here I am."
"I feel judged," he added. "I'm already on the ground, you shoot me. I ask for a little mercy. It hurts me because I train like a madman and it doesn't work. When the guy is down, don't shoot him."
In a section where both Azarenka and Maria Sakkari were supposed to meet, the draw has busted wide open after victories from Pegula and Kristina Mladenovic respectively. The two seeded women's in the bottom half of this mini section, Yulia Putintseva and Elina Svitolina, must be favoring their chances here.
Despite this golden opportunity for them, Putintseva is a streaky player while Svitolina has faltered at being a heavy favorite. One of Pegula, Stosur, Hibino, Mladenovic, Putintseva, Van Uytvanck, Gauff, or Svitolina will be headed to at least the fourth round. For one of the unseeded players, it could really kick start something big for them in 2021.
In the top half of this mini section, Sofia Kenin looked rusty but claimed victory against Maddison Inglis. The defending champion on the women's side is dealing with a nagging leg injury and is a slight underdog against Kaia Kanepi who is a formidable opponent especially in the majors.
Both her and Jennifer Brady are players to watch out for here as either woman possesses the game and the firepower to head deep into the Australian fortnight.
On the men's side, with the likes of Roberto Bautista Agut, David Goffin, and Jan-Lennard Struff all going down, it is also a chance for someone to sneak into the second week of a major for the first time. Borna Coric is the lone player from the two sections to have ever made it that far in a major. If Mackenzie McDonald can upset him, we'll have another first-timer as Alexei Popyrin and Lloyd Harris have also never made it that far.
In the section where Rublev is the top seed, the Russian has been firing on all cylinders to start 2021 and looks favorite a first-time fourth-rounder with Ruud, Paul, O'Connell, and Albot all waiting in the wings.
All in all, the Happy Slam looks to have kept its namesake, for the most part, in 2021. Fans are back with smiles, players are glad to see the fans, players salivating at an opportunity for a big run.