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Kickstarting the 2021 season

By Jack Davies

2020 was not a great year for tennis players or fans across the world as play was largely cancelled due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, but 2021 is set to be a whole lot better. This week, professional tennis players kickstarted their 2021 seasons with tournaments in Abu Dhabi, Delray Beach, and the Australian Open qualifying rounds.

The players holidays (or more realistically, rigorous pre-season training programmes) come to a grinding halt as they travel the world to compete once again against friends and rivals. But 2021 does look a bit different to previous years on tour, now players can expect mandatory testing, Covid-safe bubbles, and no spectators to cheer them on.

So, while we might not hear rapturous applause when someone hits a glorious crosscourt backhand, or the collective groan of the audience when a player mistimes an overhead, we can at least tune in remotely.

This week has seen British players Heather Watson and Jodie Burrage face off in the first round of the Abu Dhabi Open. After a slow start in the first, Watson eventually edged Burrage in the third set, before losing in the second round in another three-set thriller against an in-form Ekaterina Alexandrova. The tournament finished on Wednesday 13th January as Aryna Sabalenka made quick work of defeating Veronika Kudermetova 6-2 6-2 in the final. This victory marks Sabalenka’s 15-match winning streak.

Photo by WTA/Jimmie48

Cameron Norrie had some more success for British fans at the Delray Beach Open in Florida, where he reached the semi-finals before losing to the eventual runner-up American Sebastian Korda. Norrie beat some big names on his way to the semis, including Frances Tiafoe and the number 3 seed Adrian Mannarino. But its Hubert Hurkacz who leaves Florida with the Delray Beach trophy after beating Korda 6-3 6-3 in the final.

Image credit: Sky Sports

Back in Dubai, Francesca Jones has successfully reached the main draw of the Australian Open. She competed in the qualifying tournament, which was played in Doha and Dubai this year to limit the number of players travelling into Australia amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Jones is currently ranked 241 in the world but will now have the opportunity to boost herself up the rankings in Melbourne next month. Other British players who played the qualifying rounds include Naiktha Bains, Liam Broady, Harriet Dart, and Jay Clarke, but it’s only Jones who has made it through to the main draw. She will join Johanna Konta, Heather Watson, and Katie Boulter in the 2021 AO Women’s Singles tournament.

Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images for LTA

The main draw action kicks off on February 8th and will be available on Eurosport in the UK– but you will have to stay up late to watch it. All eyes will be on defending singles champions Sofia Kenin and Novak Djokovic. There are a couple of smaller tournaments on the WTA circuit at the beginning of February, while the ATP Cup from the 1st – 5th keeps the men busy before the AO.

Photo by Getty

So, while we are struggling in the midst of a lockdown and unable to play, it may be an idea to replace your tennis racket with your tv remote. Who knows? Maybe watching the professionals at work will inspire better footwork or improve your technique.

I know I’ll be paying close attention to their net play – as anyone who’s played me will tell you – the quickest way to beat me is to bring me to the net.

Jack Davies for Surrey Tennis.

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