5 talking points ahead of the Australian Open

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The efforts of Australian Open organisers to make the tournament happen will come to fruition when the year’s first grand slam begins on February 8.

The players have all completed two weeks of quarantine and Melbourne Park will see the strongest field since the tour resumed last summer.

Here, the PA news agency picks out five talking points for a tournament that will attract plenty of attention on and off court.

Will it be Covid-19 free?

Tournament organisers jumped through months’ worth of hoops to enable more than 1,000 people to enter the country last month. After two weeks of tightly-controlled quarantine, the threat of any of those players and associated personnel passing on the virus should have reduced to zero, but tournament director Craig Tiley and his team will still be holding their breath. Staging the tournament in this environment has been hugely controversial in Melbourne and, if any community coronavirus cases are linked to it, that would be a disaster.

Not a level playing field

Arrangements got off to a very bumpy start when Covid-19 cases on three of the charter flights led to 72 players being confined to their rooms for two weeks without the training privileges they had been expecting. To what extent players were warned of that possibility is history now but the effect it might have on their Australian Open chances will be a major talking point. Britain’s Heather Watson as well as big names like Angelique Kerber, Victoria Azarenka and Kei Nishikori were among the 72. There was also disquiet about the perceived advantages given to top-ranked players like Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams who quarantined in Adelaide.

Nadal playing for history

Thiem sets the stage

Serena tries again

Serena Williams is still in pursuit of number 24
Serena Williams is still in pursuit of number 24 (Hamish Blair/AP)

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