The clock is also ticking down to the draw this Thursday, and for the first time in many a year, all the tournament’s active champions and runners-up of the last decade, men and women, are present and correct, except for Marcos Baghdatis, who lost in qualifying.
Last year, for example, Melbourne was missing Serena Williams—who won in 2017 while expecting her first child—and Victoria Azarenka, who faced custody battles over her son. As for Andy Murray, he had been labouring with a hip injury since the previous Wimbledon and would eventually opt for surgery while still in Australia.
Now, too, former champions Stan Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic, who were physically still sub-par last January following long injury breaks, are back to fitness. In particular, Djokovic, the six-time former champion, has hit the heights since early last summer to win two Majors and reclaim No1, though Wawrinka has yet to break the seeding milestone, making him a potential floater for seeds in the early rounds.
· After resorting to that long-delayed hip surgery last year, Murray now arrives in Melbourne ranked No230 and forced to use his protected after playing just six tournaments in 2018. He opened his Australia campaign with a Round 1 win in Brisbane but was beaten by Daniil Medvedev in Round 2—and still playing with some hip pain. Without a seeding, he is vulnerable to a tough draw from the very start without a good slice of luck.
· Kyle Edmund made his first Major SF last year at the Australian Open and won his first title at the end of 2018. But he began his 2019 campaign with an opening loss in Brisbane and a knee injury that forced him to withdraw from Sydney this week. However, he celebrated his 24th birthday yesterday with a rigorous two-hour practice with Roger Federer, and looked fully fit. Seeded inside the top 16, he will avoid a higher ranked player until the fourth round.
· The leading British female player, Johanna Konta, had her breakthrough in Melbourne with a SF finish in 2016—and a QF in 2017—but she struggled with form through 2018, with nine opening-round losses, to drop from a ranking high of No4 18 months ago to a current 38, ie outside the seedings. She has also picked up a neck injury following a promising win over Sloane Stephens in Brisbane, where she lost in the second round, and subsequently pulled out of Sydney.
· Compatriots Heather Watson (No93), Katie Boulter (No99) and Cameron Norrie (93) have also qualified for the main draws, while Dan Evans, Harriet Dart, and James Ward are currently progressing through qualifying.
· Norrie sharpened his preparation with two good wins at the Hopman Cup over Stefanos Tsitsipas and Frances Tiafoe, and this week has reached the quarters in Auckland, where he next plays Taylor Fritz.
· Boulter partnered Norrie in the Hopman Cup, played against Serena Williams in singles and, in doubles, against Federer, and she plays another non-tour event in Kooyong this week.
· Serena Williams aims to match the all-time Major record tally of Margaret Court with an Open era record eighth Australian title.
· Both Federer and Djokovic are targeting a men’s all-time record seventh Australian title.
· Federer could overtake Ken Rosewall to become the oldest Major champion in men’s tennis.
· Feliciano Lopez could extend his record tally of consecutive Majors with his 68th in Melbourne.
· The tournament has introduced, for the first time, a tie-break final set (fifth in men’s draw, third in women’s draw), won by the first to 10 points with two-point lead. The other sets will be regular tie-break sets at 6-6, first to seven points.
· The tournament will use a new Heat Stress Scale across the men’s and women’s draws, whereby players have a 10-minute break if conditions reach a pre-determined level, and play will be suspended when it hits the highest zone on the scale.
· Shot clock: 25 second clock on serve for all main-draw matches; one minute to be ready for coin toss, five minutes for the warm-up itself, one minute until the first point.
· Electronic Review System on all 16 match courts.
· Increased qualifying draw for women, from 96 to 128 players.
· Trial of coaching in qualifying and juniors.
Monday 15 to Sunday 28 January (NB Melbourne 11 hours ahead of London)
Men’s champions: Federer (six, and defending), Djokovic (six), Rafael Nadal (one), Wawrinka (one). NB These four together have won the last 13 titles.
Men’s finalists: Andy Murray (five), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (one), Marcos Baghdatis (one), Marin Cilic (one)
Women’s champions: Serena Williams (seven, defending from 2017), Victoria Azarenka (two), Caroline Wozniacki (one, and defending from 2018), Angelique Kerber (one), Maria Sharapova (one)
Women’s finalists: Venus Williams (two), Dominika Cibulkova (one), Simona Halep (one)
Total purse up 14 percent to a record A$62.5 million (£35 million) with $4.1 million for each singles champion (£2.3 million). Biggest percentage increase, 25 percent, to first-round main draw, A$75,000 (£42,000).
Mubadala World Tennis Championships, Abu Dhabi (exho event)
Novak Djokovic beat Kevin Anderson, 4-6, 7-5, 7-5
Hopman Cup, Perth [ITF/TA event]
Roger Federer/Belinda Bencic beat Alexander Zverev/Angelique Kerber
NB Both Federer and Kerber won all four of their singles matches
Shenzhen Open, WTA International
Aryna Sabalenka beat Alison Riske, 4-6, 7-6, 6-3
Brisbane International, ATP 250/WTA Premier
Kei Nishikori beat Daniil Medvedev, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2
Karolina Pliskova beat Lesia Tsurenko, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2
Qatar Open (Doha), ATP 250
Roberto Bautista Agut beat Tomas Berdych, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3
Pune (India), ATP 250
Kevin Anderson beat Ivo Karlovic, 7-6, 6-7, 7-6
Auckland Classic, WTA International
Julia Goerges beat Bianca Andreescu, 2-6,7-5,6-1
Auckland Classic, ATP 250
Fabio Fognini, Pablo Carreno Busta, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Norrie, Fritz
Hobart International, WTA International
Belinda Bencic, Alize Cornet, Kirsten Flipkens
Sydney International, ATP 250, WTA Premier
ATP: Tsitsipas, Diego Schwartzman, Gilles Simon, Alex de Minaur, John Millman
WTA: Kerber, Petra Kvitova, Timea Bacsinszky, Kiki Bertens, Ash Barty
Kooyong Classic, Melbourne
Players: Anderson, Cilic, Fernando Verdasco, Sorana Cirstea, Peng Shuai, Nick Kyrgios
Fast4 Showdown, Sydney
Players: Nadal, Kyrgios, Milos Raonic, Millman
World Team Challenge, Adelaide
Players: Azarenka/Verdasco; Eugenie Bouchard/Borna Coric
[NB Seeded withdrawals: Juan Martin del Potro, No5, Richard Gasquet, No26]
1 Novak Djokovic
2 Rafael Nadal
3 Roger Federer
4 Alexander Zverev
5 Kevin Anderson
6 Marin Cilic
7 Dominic Thiem
8 Kei Nishikori
9 John Isner
10 Karen Khachanov
11 Borna Coric
12 Fabio Fognini
13 Kyle Edmund
14 Stefanos Tsitsipas
15 Daniil Medvedev
16 Milos Raonic
17 Marco Cecchinato
18 Diego Schwartzman
19 Nikoloz Basilashvili
20 Grigor Dimitrov
21 David Goffin
22 Roberto Bautista Agut
23 Pablo Carreno Busta
24 Chung Hyeon
25 Denis Shapovalov
26 Fernando Verdasco
27 Alex de Minaur
28 Lucas Pouille
29 Gilles Simon
30 Gael Monfils
31 Steve Johnson
32 Philipp Kohlschreiber
Dangerous non-seeds: Kyrgios (51), Tomas Berdych (57), Wawrinka (59), Murray (230) (protected ranking), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (177) (wild card)
1 Simona Halep
2 Angelique Kerber
3 Caroline Wozniacki
4 Naomi Osaka
5 Sloane Stephens
6 Elina Svitolina
7 Karolina Pliskova
8 Petra Kvitova
9 Kiki Bertens
10 Daria Kasatkina
11 Aryna Sabalenka
12 Elise Mertens
13 Anastasija Sevastova
14 Julia Goerges
15 Ashleigh Barty
16 Serena Williams
17 Madison Keys
18 Garbine Muguruza
19 Caroline Garcia
20 Anett Kontaveit
21 Wang Qiang
22 Jelena Ostapenko
23 Carla Suarez Navarro
24 Lesia Tsurenko
25 Mihaela Buzarnescu
26 Dominika Cibulkova
27 Camila Giorgi
28 Hsieh Su-wei
29 Donna Vekic
30 Maria Sharapova
31 Petra Martic
32 Barbora Strycova
Dangerous non-seeds: Venus Williams (37), Victoria Azarenka (52), Belinda Bencic (55), Timea Bacsinszky (73) (protected ranking), Eugenie Bouchard (79)
MORE: The latest football news
MORE: The latest tennis news
BIOGRAPHY: Ethan Hazard
BIOGRAPHY: Daniel Sturridge