REUTERS: Talking points ahead of the Australian Open, the year's first Grand Slam which begins on Feb. 8.
CAN DJOKOVIC WEATHER THE STORM AFTER 'DEMANDS' DRAW IRE?
Novak Djokovic won few friends in Australia after writing to the Grand Slam's organisers with a list of quarantine "demands" which included reduced isolation periods and "private houses with tennis courts" for some players.
The move was blasted by Australians on social media, while former Davis Cup player Sam Groth called the letter a "selfish political move". Australia's Nick Kyrgios labelled Djokovic a "tool."
Djokovic said his good intentions were "misconstrued" but winning the year's first major could be the ideal balm for his troubles. The 33-year-old has had plenty of success at Melbourne Park, winning a record eight titles there.
NADAL TARGETS RECORD 21ST GRAND SLAM WITH FEDERER ABSENT
Rafa Nadal's record-extending 13th triumph at Roland Garros in 2020 left him tied with Roger Federer as the player with the most men's singles majors and the Spaniard can now overtake his great rival who has skipped the Australian Open.
Federer has been an ever-present at Melbourne Park since his first appearance when he lost in qualifying in 1999 but the six-times champion has pulled out to continue working his way back to fitness from two knee operations last year.
However, Melbourne Park has not been a happy hunting ground for Nadal, who won his only Australian Open title 12 years ago.
KENIN, SWIATEK HOPE TO BUILD ON BREAKTHROUGH YEAR
American Sofia Kenin won her maiden Grand Slam in Melbourne last year to storm into the world's top 10 and was crowned WTA Player of the Year after a run to the French Open final.
Teenager Iga Swiatek beat Kenin in the Roland Garros showpiece in October to become the first Polish player to win a Grand Slam singles title, and the challenge for the two newest stars of women's tennis will be to build on their success.
Kenin, 22, has said seeking Novak Djokovic's advice might do the trick, while Swiatek, 19, is keeping her expectations low to avoid being bogged down by the hype that has accompanied her rise.
LEVEL PLAYING FIELD?
More than 70 Australian Open players were forced to go into strict quarantine in their hotel rooms after some passengers on three charter flights that brought them to Australia tested positive for COVID-19.
Other players were also in quarantine but allowed to leave their rooms for up to five hours a day and train, raising questions about the Grand Slam's integrity.
Locked indoors, players resorted to creative ways to kill boredom and stay fit but there is little doubt they now face a difficult task to be in optimal physical condition for the season's first major.
REDUCED CROWDS AND PANDEMIC PLANNING
The Australian Open will admit up to 30,000 spectators per day amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which is around 50per cent of the usual attendance. The limit will drop to 25,000 over the last five days when there are fewer matches.
While that amounts to 390,000 people over 14 days - about 50per cent of the average in the last three years - it is still a huge number at a time when most events around the world are being held behind closed doors.
Crowds will be spread into three separate zones at Melbourne Park, while digital tickets, cashless transactions and sanitiser stations located throughout the precinct will help reduce the chances of contamination.
Patrons will also have to "check-in" to restaurants and bars via their mobile phones for contact tracing purposes.
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris)