You might have noticed that we at Tennis With An Accent aren’t writing any preview articles for the 2020 Australian Open.
It’s not that we have stopped caring about tennis — we will cover the heck out of this tournament when it starts — but we can’t pretend this is just another major tennis tournament, that it is business as usual. It’s not.
It is not normal for a nation and continent to see its major cities damaged and threatened by fire, and for smoky air to cause breathing problems for players in Australian Open qualifying. It is not normal for the natural and constant debate about court assignments to now take on an entirely different level of importance, given that indoor courts will provide relief from bad air quality and outside courts might not.
It is not normal for the annually intense summer heat of Australia — a condition players know they will have to cope with — being accompanied by bad air quality.
It is not normal to face death, suffering and destruction on this scale while a huge national sporting event begins. In 2016, Roland Garros had to deal with massive flooding in France, but that was near the end of the tournament, not at the beginning. This is very different. It is much worse.
I could go on and on, but I think I have made my point. What is the purpose of saying this is not normal, not business as usual?
I’ll tell you very bluntly: Assuming this tournament is played and completed, the winners will deserve full praise for battling through and finding solutions in difficult conditions. All credit to the men and women who succeed this week.
However, this will not be a tournament in which I comment on the larger significance of results. There are no guarantees — maybe the air quality will somehow be much better than we all expect — but if the environmental conditions play any appreciable role in shaping outcomes, it would be irresponsible to say that “X result proves what a great player Person A is, and what a deficient or unprepared player Person C is.”
We can’t, I think, make those verdicts at this tournament. The results will exist in a narrow context, given the survivalist dimensions this Australian Open is likely to have.
It is not business as usual. Doing our staff picks column at Tennis With An Accent — in which we discuss “Which player has the most to prove?” and “Which player is the most likely upset victim in the first week?” — seems misplaced and inappropriate, relative to the backdrop attached to the 2020 Australian Open.
Having our “popcorn-munching” speculation on which players will fail (and succeed) is not right. At least, it doesn’t feel very right.
When the first ball is hit, you’ll get plenty of coverage, but in terms of hyping this tournament, nah. It doesn’t feel right.