Australian Open: Serena Williams, Osaka drawn in same half at 2021 event
Serena Williams has been drawn into the same quarter at the Australian Open as No. 2-ranked Simona Halep and the same half as Naomi Osaka in her latest bid for a record-equaling 24th Grand Slam singles title. First up for the seven-time Australian Open champion will be Laura Siegemund of Germany. And that’s her immediate focus.
US Open champion Osaka will face Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the first round and has major winners Angelique Kerber, Garbine Muguruza, last year’s runner-up in Australia, Venus Williams and Bianca Andreescu in her quarter.
Defending champion Sofia Kenin is on the top half of the women’s draw along with No. 1-ranked Ash Barty and they could potentially meet in the semifinals again. Kenin won that encounter last year on her way to a breakthrough major title.
Novak Djokovic’s bid for a third consecutive Australian title, and ninth overall, could get tricky. He has an opener against Jerome Chardy and three-time major winner Stan Wawrinka, Milos Raonic and Alexander Zverev are in his quarter.
Top-ranked Djokovic and Zverev were playing against each other in an ATP Cup doubles match when the draw was made Friday for the season-opening major. Djokovic edged Zverev in the second singles match to pull defending champion Serbia level at 1-1 with Germany, with the winner advancing to the final.
Rafael Nadal, aiming to win a record 21st major singles title — he moved equal with Roger Federer by winning the French Open last year — will open against Laslo Djere and could face fifth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarterfinals.
The official draw was delayed by a day because all play was suspended on Thursday while 160 players had to isolate and get tested for COVID-19 after a worker in one of the tournament hotel quarantine hotels tested positive.
Williams moves into semis against Barty in tune-up event
Most things about this week leading into a major are different for Serena Williams. The 23-time Grand Slam champion got to try something new Friday, too, needing a match tiebreaker to beat fellow American Danielle Collins 6-2, 4-6, 10-6 and set up a semifinal against top-ranked Ash Barty in the Yarra River Classic.
A day after all matches in six tournaments were postponed so that 160 players could isolate and undergo testing because a worker at a quarantine hotel returned a positive test, there were 70 matches on the order of play as organizers tried to cram all scheduled lead-in matches into three days. The Australian Open starts Monday.
Barty also got her first taste of the modified scoring system introduced to shorten matches in a disrupted schedule, dominating a match tiebreaker to beat Shelby Rogers 7-5, 2-6, 10-4.
In a reverse of the result of last year’s Australian Open final, Garbine Muguruza beat Sofia Kenin 6-2, 6-2 to advance to the semifinals. Kenin beat Muguruza in the 2020 final in three sets, including by 6-2 scores in the final two sets.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley did a radio interview before play started and announced that 507 people with connections to the tournament quarantine hub test had been tested and 495 had already returned negative tests for the coronavirus. He said results for 12 people were pending.
Azarenka advances as well
Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka beat Yulia Putintseva 6-4, 1-6, 11-9 to advance at the Grampians Trophy, an event staged for the players forced into hard lockdown during quarantine.
Sorana Cirstea upset Belinda Bencic, the highest-ranked player in the tournament, 7-5, 6-2 before a clap of thunder and a rain shower suspended play on outside courts.