Mendoza: Fans back in Aussie Open

Al Mendoza
·2 min read

The fans finally will be allowed back at the arena during the 109th Australian Open beginning Feb. 8 in Melbourne. It’s a luxury for spectators amid the pandemic scourge still viciously raging across most parts of the globe.

But as a compromise, only 25,000-30,000 fans at Melbourne Park will be admitted each day up to the Finals on Feb. 21.

Still, it was a concession that titillated world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who had been very vocal at finding fans absent in last year’s French Open and US Open, calling it “strange.” (The 2020 Wimbledon was scrapped, a first since World War II.)

Djokovic said he was thrilled playing before spectators in an Adelaide exhibition after coming out of quarantine last Friday.

“I had goosebumps coming into the court playing in front of the fans again after 12 months of not experiencing that,” he said. “After playing professional tennis for more than 15 years, this is one of the biggest driving forces or motivations...Feeding off that energy, exchanging that great passion and joy that I have for the sport and the fans have for the sport.”

Djokovic is Australia’s well-loved Serbian, simply because eight of his 17 Slams were captured in Melbourne.

He said upon his arrival in Melbourne: “It felt like a homecoming in Rod Laver (Arena). That is by far my most successful tennis court in my career.”

But while Djokovic, 33, is that excited in bidding to win his ninth Aussie Open, Australian Ashleigh “Ash” Barty is still animated in defending her country’s rather stringent health rules in the run-up to the event.

Djokovic received quarantine concessions that drew criticism from some quarters, while Barty, being an Australian, was freed from quarantine policies.

Being the world’s No. 1, Barty, 24, is under pressure to end Australia’s 43-year drought in the Aussie Open. She was idle the last 11 months, abdicating her French Open crown due to the pandemic.

“I certainly don’t feel like I’m more of a favorite than anyone else,” said Barty, who hasn’t seen her coach, Craig Tyzzer, for six months due to her country’s closed state borders.

Her 7-6 (8-6) 7-5 semifinal loss to Sofia Kenin in the 2020 Aussie Open still haunts her.

“It’s good that it hurts because it means something to Ash,” said Tyzzer.

I’m looking forward to watching Poland’s first Grand Slam champion Iga Swiatek play. As a nondescript 19-year-old, she won the 2020 French Open, crushing defending Aussie Open champion Kenin, 6-4, 6-1.

Sit tight, fellas.