The Australian Open will get Roger Federer back, and Rafael Nadal will return after not playing in the ATP World Tour Finals. Yet, a number of significant absences will mark the first major of the tennis season, on both the ATP and WTA sides. Here are the five biggest no-shows in Melbourne beginning on January 15.
1. Juan Martin del Potro
Juan Martin del Potro created the memory of a lifetime by winning the Davis Cup in late November. This was Argentina’s first Davis Cup championship, something Delpo will remember forever, but what made the achievement even more special was that del Potro won marathon matches – over five hours against Andy Murray in the semifinals against Great Britain, of a similar length against Marin Cilic in the final against Croatia – to lift his team and his country over the top. Part of that larger journey for del Potro simply involved a lot of time on court. Combined with the fact that playing Davis Cup ate two more weeks into his offseason schedule, del Potro has gotten a lot less rest and recovery time than most of his competitors on tour. Given that del Potro has had constant problems with his left wrist, and has had to deal with the frustrations of a stop-and-start career the past few years. He is therefore trying to get extra rest, presumably to come back during or just before Indian Wells in March, which represents an important and high-volume part of the tennis season. It’s probably a good choice, all things considered. One doubts that del Potro will reach two straight Davis Cup finals after going the distance last year. He will play the 2018 Australian Open if he’s not injured.
2. Petra Kvitova
The horrific home invasion and attack which has knocked Kvitova out for six months (through May at the very least) thankfully did not take her life and didn’t give her a much more serious and debilitating injury. Nevertheless, Kvitova has been shaken, as anyone would be, and it remains a mystery as to how she will respond once she does retake the tennis court in live match play.
3. Victoria Azarenka
Azarenka is taking this tournament off because of the birth of a child. Before anyone says that this will mark the death of her career, it’s important to realize that Kim Clijsters had a very successful career after un-retiring and after giving birth to a child. People who have kids learn to be very disciplined about how they structure their lives. As long as Azarenka finds people to help with child care and can get adequate rest between matches during tournaments, she should be fine once she does eventually return to the tour.
Her absence is notable because she won the Australian Open last year. It was really the launching point for a great start to her season where she dominated on the hard courts. This opens the door for someone else to claim the prize Down Under.
4. Maria Sharapova
The superstar’s suspension continues through the spring, though it has been reduced to a point that she won’t miss the whole 2017 season. She’ll be able to play in clay events and ramp up preparations for the French Open, which has become her best major tournament. Being sharp for the French is Sharapova’s foremost 2017 goal, without question. Working off the rust will be a noticeable challenge. She’s won two French Opens in her time, so she should be a threat for that event. However, she also has an Australian Open under her belt and she’s made it to the semifinals or beyond seven separate times. In a normal scenario, she’d be a contender, so her absence is significant.
5. Madison Keys
One of the younger stars on the WTA Tour, Keys punishes the ball and has a fierce hitting stroke. This aggressive approach is something she’ll have to watch in her career. It could create wear and tear on her body. An injury has sidelined Keys for this tournament. Studying the game and learning how to compete are tasks Keys can pursue during this down time from the tour.
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