Tennis legends Serena Williams and Roger Federer have been confirmed among entries for the upcoming Australian Open.
Apart from the star duo, world number one Ash Barty and eight-time champion Novak Djokovic (SRB) will lead the fields at the tournament slated to be held from February 8-21.
There was a question mark over Federer, who warned this month he was in a “race against time” to be fit after two rounds of knee surgery. But the Swiss legend has begun training in Dubai and was among those entered to play at Melbourne Park.
At the Melbourne Park, Serena will set herself up to equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles by winning an eighth Australian Open crown.
“Although the AO will look a bit different to previous years, the safety of everyone is our top priority. We have the opportunity to stage a very safe, and happy Slam, and give the players the experience of competing in front of crowds again, something they’ve missed for most of this year,” Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said in a statement on Thursday.
“There are so many great storylines for AO 2021. Serena is gunning for her eighth AO title while Novak, who often seems invincible at Melbourne Park, is going for a record ninth title. Our own world No.1 Ash Barty will return to Grand Slam competition, as will Roger Federer as he comes back from injury. And there’s a new crop of rising stars coming up to challenge them all,” he added.
Joining defending champion Djokovic is world number two Rafael Nadal Dominic Thiem, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, Andrey Rublev, Diego Schwartzman and Matteo Berrettini.
Also in contention on the women’s side are world number two Simona Halep, 2020 US Open champion Naomi Osaka, defending champion, Sofia Kenin, Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova, Bianca Andreescu, Petra Kvitova, Kiki Bertens (NED) and Aryna Sabalenka
Two-time champion Victoria Azarenka returns, having missed the tournament in 2020, alongside19-year-old Iga Swiatek, the newest grand slam women’s champion who won Roland Garros in October.
A total of 104 players will receive direct entry into the men’s and women’s singles main draw and a further eight are awarded wildcards, while 16 places will be determined at the qualifying rounds.
In the past 17 years, the all-time grand slam leading trio of Djokovic (2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2019, 2020), Federer (2004, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2017, 2018) and Nadal (2009) have won the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup 15 times between them.
There have been eight different women’s champions since 2011 – Kenin (2020), Osaka (2019), Caroline Wozniacki (2018), Serena Williams (2017, 2015), Angelique Kerber (2016), Li Na (2014), Azarenka (2013, 2012) and Kim Clijsters (2011).
The ATP had earlier announced that men’s qualifying for the Australian Open would take place in Doha and Dubai from January 10-13 before players relocated to Melbourne to enter 14-day quarantine.
Australia Open was earlier scheduled to start from January 18, however the schedule was updated because of the Covid-19 restrictions.