This year’s Australian Open ends three weeks later than usual but got underway on Sunday a day earlier than originally planned.
This strange situation is explained by the qualifying event kicking off more than 7,000 miles from Melbourne, in Doha and Dubai, with the survivors from its three rounds being allowed to fly on to the main event and its two-week quarantine period.
In a glimpse of normality, British tennis’s first two entrants both lost in the opening round. Naiktha Bains and Jay Clarke went down in straight sets against lower-ranked opposition.
Jay Clarke (above) and Naiktha Bains have both crashed out of Australian Open qualifying
Three more are in action on Monday – Liam Broady, Francesca Jones and Harriet Dart – while Katie Swan faces an anxious wait. Just short of automatic entry, she has flown to Dubai to be on standby and will step in if there is a last-minute withdrawal.
The last two Grand Slams to take place in the pandemic, the US and French Opens, dispensed with qualifying. The Australians, however, were keen to maintain it while coping with the strict limit on numbers allowed to enter their country.
Hence the elaborate and unprecedented shifting of the preliminaries to the Middle East, where they are being played under Covid-compliant conditions.
British star Bains had gone down in straight sets to Tessah Andrianjafitrimo 6-1, 6-2 in Dubai
The men are in Doha, where practice sessions have been limited to chunks of 55 minutes before the court undergoes cleaning.
Separately, in a possible nod to what might be seen at football’s 2022 World Cup, their tournament fact sheet has warned them against overt public displays of affection.
One Briton who will definitely not be making the trip to Australia is Kyle Edmunds.
He has withdrawn due to soreness in his knee, an injury that has bothered him for more than a year now.
Kyle Edmunds will definitely not travel to Australia due to pulling out with soreness in his knee