British No 1s Johanna Konta and Dan Evans are leading the charge in Melbourne with hope for a positive start to 2021 at the Australian Open.
The absence of Kyle Edmund, who continues to struggle with a knee problem, and Andy Murray following his badly timed bout of coronavirus, leaves six British singles players in the main draw ahead of this year’s tournament which will see 30,000 fans a day, around 50 per cent of the usual attendance, when the Grand Slam gets underway on February 8.
Here, we look at Britain’s hopefuls at Melbourne Park.
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The temporary switch to a two-year ranking system has kept Konta in the top 15 despite a disappointing 2020. An ongoing knee issue did not help but the 29-year-old has reunited with coach Dimitri Zavialoff ahead of this year’s tournament which offers hope that she can rediscover her form of 2019.
A change in Zavialoff’s personal circumstances meant he ended their partnership last summer, and Konta’s short trial with Maria Sharapova’s former coach Thomas Hogstedt was unsuccessful. He is not in Melbourne, though, with Konta picking boyfriend Jackson Wade and assistant coach Dan Smethurst – who is also her hitting partner – as the two team members she was permitted to bring with her.
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“It never really felt like we stopped working so it was very easy for us to get back to the work at hand,” Konta said of Zavialoff, whose calm and understated approach helped the former Australian Open semi-finalist rediscover her best form. “I really enjoy learning from him and that keeps me very excited to do what I do. I feel like it makes me a better tennis player.”
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Watson won her fourth WTA Tour title in Acapulco last February to return to the top 50 but struggled after the resumption of the tour, failing to win a match until December.
The 28-year-old was unfortunate to be one of the 72 players forced to isolate in her hotel room for two weeks on arrival in Australia.
Watson only left hotel quarantine last week and said prior to the tournament she was “not putting a lot of pressure on myself” as she focuses on the Australian Open.
She made an early exit at the Grampians Trophy as she lost 6-2 6-2 in her opening round match against the 36th-ranked Russian Veronika Kudermetova.
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Boulter entered the tournament using her protected ranking after a long injury absence due to a back problem.
The 24-year-old, ranked at 371 after a lengthy spell out with a back injury in 2019, played at just her second WTA event in close to two years at the Murray River Open.
And she managed two victories to start the Australian swing, the second over Coco Gauff, which is a very positive sign.
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Jones’ feat in qualifying for her first Grand Slam has been rightly lauded. The 20-year-old from Bradford was born with a condition that affects the development of hands and feet and has only six fingers (plus two thumbs) and seven toes.
Not surprisingly her determination is one of her biggest strengths.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve ever reached a low point due to my syndrome. I stand by what I’ve said previously which is I try and use it as a positive and I see it as an advantage in many ways,” said Jones, who has had over 10 surgeries in her life already. “I’ve definitely had to work a lot more on my physicality.”
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The British No 1 will again be seeded after a 2020 season that brought him eight victories over top-20 players but only two wins in total at the Grand Slams.
Evans, 30, is trialling a new coach in Australian Chris Johnstone following his split from mentor Mark Hilton.
Norrie was the most impressive British player when the tour resumed last summer, reaching the third round of a Grand Slam for the first time at the US Open.
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He began 2021 in encouraging fashion by making the semi-finals of the Delray Beach Open. Looking for his first main-draw victory in Australia.
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