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‘Give the fans a good show’: stars speak up before AO build-up

  • Matt Trollope

Enjoying their first few days out of quarantine, a cavalcade of tennis stars addressed the media on Sunday for the first time in person since arriving in Australia.

Training and preparing for their first competitive hit-outs at Melbourne Park, they were in largely upbeat moods as they discussed their off-seasons, their form and their mentality approaching Australian Open 2021.

We’ve collected some of the more interesting insights from when the players met the press on Sunday.

Living in the present

For Rafael Nadal, it is time to focus on his primary purpose:

“When we arrived here, we have this quarantine. But I think that's over. Is the moment to start talking about tennis. That's why we came here: to play tennis, to try to give to the fans around the world and to the fans here in Australia a good show.”

Aryna Sabalenka is no longer thinking about latest title in Abu Dhabi, or her 15-match win streak:

“I already forget what happened in the past, to be honest. I already forget about this title. I'm going to focus on my game, prepare myself for the Grand Slam. We are still having focus on the Grand Slam. I am going to do somethings on the court that can help me on the Grand Slams. This is where is my mind is. I would say ready to go.”

For Johanna Konta, lessons learned last year are helping her right now:

“I think it is just about staying very flexible and very open to what opportunities we will have, what those opportunities will look like. It's very much a day-to-day thing. I'm feeling very, very grateful for the opportunity that I have to be here, to be competing. So that's what I will let fill my energy up, make me happy.”

Fresh and fit

Having not competed since Roland Garros in October, Petra Kvitova has valued her off-season:

“I think it was my longest off-season, longest preparation I ever have in my career. Definitely it's good that I'm not overplayed or everything what I did in off-season. I took some time off after Paris, then I started.”

So too has Milos Raonic:

“For me, always a little bit of a longer break is a good thing. It ended up being a lot longer. Sort of doubled the off-season that we're used to. I was able to train without any physical issues. I'm excited about starting up now.”

Melbourne Park novelty

All Australian Open lead-in events are being staged at Melbourne Park for the first time, something Naomi Osaka appreciates:

“It's really good for me to get some practice and preparation. I'm actually really happy. For me, I like it's being held at the same spot. I know normally we don't get that sort of luxury. So, yeah, making the most out of the situation.”

Karolina Pliskova is also open to this arrangement:

“I think it can be good in one point because you have the matches on the same courts, same venue as the play the slam. I never actually experienced that. Let's see.”

The thrill of competition

Novak Djokovic, who leads defending champions Serbia into ATP Cup battle next week, cannot wait to get started:

MORE: Djokovic's point to prove at AO 2021

“We are all excited and looking forward to the start of the season. We've trained hard. All of us here … and I'm sure most of the other players as well, had good off-season training blocks, and we are ready to kick-start our seasons in the best possible way.”

Denis Shapovalov, representing Canada, is looking forward at a crack at Djokovic:

“I think it's exciting. I had a great match against him last year. I feel confident. I feel like I'm playing really good tennis in practice. To me, it's really fun to be back out here playing, competing, especially with this group of guys. It's events like this that I enjoy the most. I'm really excited.”

Patriotic Aussies

Few players thrive more when representing their country than Alex de Minaur, who is looking forward to headlining Australia’s ATP Cup squad:

“We've all had different kind of preparations for this tournament. I'm sure that come that first ball, we're all going to be rearing to go and ready to put on the green and gold and represent our country. I'm really looking forward to stepping out on court and competing in Australia. It's been a long time coming so I'm very pumped, that's for sure.”

So too is John Millman:

“Any chance to play for your country, I love it. Love donning the green and gold. I'm all for team competitions. For me, one of the proudest moments is representing my country at Davis Cup and the Olympics. But I thought the ATP Cup was a really good introduction last year. I'm glad we could continue the event.”

All eyes on Iga

Reigning Roland Garros champion Iga Swiatek was a popular player on media day, but says she feels no more expectation despite her bigger stature:

“I don't feel like more pressure than before French Open. Actually, I'm more kind of confident that I can play good tennis. But it all depends on my preparation, on my attitude. Basically I'm trying to keep my expectations low, even though I did a really good pre-season. I'm just waiting for the tournament to start. Actually I've practiced for so long that mostly I'm excited and not anxious.”

Barty in a similar boat

There will be even more attention on world No.1 Ashleigh Barty when she plays in front of her home crowd. But she had this to say when asked about ‘extra expectations’:

“Not my own. Maybe from you guys. But that's on you, that's not on me (smiling).”