While the action has faded into relative insignificance given the horrors of bushfires across Australia, tennis fans are preparing for the curtain-raising Grand Slam in Melbourne to start.
The sport’s top players will descend on Victoria with renewed belief that they can make a deep run towards the title with most players at their freshest for the Australian Open.
So, why watch it? What reasons are there to tune in this time around? Well, there is the excitement around Coco Gauff, Serena Williams in touching distance of a landmark and Rafael Nadal is like an angry bear in search of revenge after losing the ATP Cup final to Novak Djokovic and Team Serbia.
The top stars in tennis are busy preparing to kick-start their 2020 Australian Open campaigns
On and off the court there are a number of fascinating narratives to keep on top of for the 2020 installment.
With that in mind, Sportsmail has put together 10 reasons why fans should tune in to watch all the action in Melbourne.
Coco Mania is back!
Arguably one of the highlights of 2019 was watching 15-year-old Cori ‘Coco’ Gauff jump for joy at Wimbledon after defeating Venus Williams in the first round.
Any sport, any moment, this was good enough to rival the lot of them.
And so Gauff was thrust into the spotlight and became an overnight sensation as she made it as far as the last-16 before losing to eventual champion Simona Halep.
All eyes will be on Cori ‘Coco’ Gauff once again as the 15-year-old prepares to take to the court
Gauff is incredibly captivating to watch and extremely likeable, too, which makes a great combination for fans to get behind. Now she will get the chance to prove it was no fluke when her and Venus lock horns in the first round… again.
Her serve remains a potent weapon, even at her tender age, against top-ranked players and she has impressed since her breakout at Wimbledon, showing quality in defeat to Naomi Osaka at the US Open.
And so the eyes of the world will be on her again, only this time she will comfortably go straight into the main draw having seen her ranking soar to world No 66.
Gauff will no longer have the unpredictability that came with her defining moment at Wimbledon.
But the Florida-based teen remains box-office and will be a must-see for those who descend on Melbourne Park in the coming weeks.
It proved to be one of 2019’s best moments when Gauff, 15, beat Venus Williams at Wimbledon
Home sweet home for Kyrgios
It is always a risk to say that it has finally clicked for Nick Kyrgios. It is a risk because he always appears to be one bad umpiring call away from a WWE-style meltdown.
That being said, Kyrgios’ persona since the start of the year has taken on a new look.
He seems to have embraced his position as a leading figure in both Australian tennis and as a respected member of his peers (even with all of his previous episodes).
Team events always bring the best out of Kyrgios, the ATP Cup only re-emphasised that point this month.
Nick Kyrgios looks comfortable playing at home in Australia and could surprise his critics
He is a huge basketball fan, with a close affinity to the Boston Celtics, and loves being surrounded by peers and friends to keep him in check.
Kyrgios won’t have them all in his corner for the Australian Open but this tournament will take on extra significance given the atrocities of the bushfires across the country.
Following a recent ATP Cup match, Kyrgios was reduced to tears in his post-match interview as he thought about Canberra, a region close to his heart and which has been particularly badly affected by the fires.
And so all signs point to Kyrgios cutting out the nonsense and simply playing to win.
How special it would be if this controversial Australian goes the distance to dethrone the game’s elite and gives thousands to charity on his way.
Serena in touching distance of Court’s record
It would be foolish to doubt Serena Williams given her staggering list of career achievements, but she will know herself that she is running out of opportunities to match – and ultimately beat – Margaret Court’s Grand Slam record.
Court, now a controversial figure due to her views on same-sex marriage and transgender people, has a total of 24 slams and Williams, stuck on 23, heads to Melbourne with a weight of expectation on herself.
She won her 23rd Major back in 2017, after winning the Australian Open, and yet three years have elapsed and she is still one short of Court.
The 38-year-old trophy drought ended last week at the Auckland Classic and the relief washed over her at the end; it was not a win to underestimate, ending the drought could be what the American needs to go on and make history now.
The relief of winning her first title in three years has taken the pressure off ahead of the Slam
She even admitted herself in the aftermath of her win in Auckland that the trophy took on added significance.
‘That was really important for me and I just want to build on it,’ the world No 9 said.
Questions have been raised about the American’s mental strength having played in four finals since that 2017 win and she was beaten in all four of them: two at Wimbledon, two at the US Open.
She lost to Angelique Kerber in the 2018 Wimbledon final before losing in controversial circumstances to Naomi Osaka at the US Open later that summer.
Defeats to Simona Halep and Bianca Andreescu in 2019 raised further questions but victory in Auckland has set her free once more.
Message to the rest of the women’s singles in Melbourne: be afraid, be very afraid…
She could not stop smiling holding the Auckland trophy as she held her daughter, Olympia
Federer rolling back the years… aged 38!
Will this man ever age like a regular human being?
Another Australian Open approaches and Roger Federer is again taking to the court with a real shot at the title.
Far and away the Benjamin Button of tennis, Federer may have an added incentive to win his seventh Australian Open title as he looks to strengthen his case to finish with the most Grand Slams of all time.
He currently has 20, Nadal has 19 and Djokovic, who is six years younger than Federer, has 16.
Djokovic holds the record in Melbourne with seven and even the Swiss can accept the Serbian and Nadal will be favoured with bookmakers.
AT 38, Roger Federer is rolling back the years as he seeks a seventh Australian Open title
‘I’m aware that at 38 I shouldn’t be the favourite, it should be someone probably in their 20s,’ Federer said recently.
‘But the three of us have been able to stay as the favourites which is great for us.
‘Both guys are already showing great signs. I was watching a little bit of their ATP Cup match and thought that was a great match. Both guys, injury free, are always tough to beat.’
Very charismatic, very charming but having been beaten by an emerging Stefanos Tsitsipas in the fourth round last year, Federer will want to see himself back on top in Melbourne this time round.
British hopes pinned on Evans… as Konta faces race to be fit
For a moment it looked as if Andy Murray was all set to make a return to Melbourne, the place which reduced him to tears 12 months ago and which seemed to signal his retirement with farewell video tributes from other players on the circuit.
That proved premature as Murray fought his way back to health but having had a ‘setback’ in the build-up, he is looking to later in 2020 to make a return to a Grand Slam.
And so in Australia it will be respective British No 1s Dan Evans and Johanna Konta that will carry the hopes of a nation on their shoulders.
Dan Evans has put his drugs ban behind him and is full of confidence as male British No 1
Evans endured a difficult Davis Cup campaign at the back end of 2019 but thrived in Team Great Britain at the ATP Cup earlier this month and goes to Melbourne Park with renewed confidence.
He had to qualify to reach the main draw in Melbourne last year and his rise in 2019 means he has no such worries this time round, given he is ranked world No 33.
The quick court conditions will suit Evans and confidence is an amazing thing for a player. Depending on how the draw plays out, Evans will be targeting a deep run in the singles.
On the women’s side Konta will hope she can find fitness for the start of the tournament having pulled out of Adelaide earlier this week.
She is managing a long-standing knee issue but if she is fit enough to compete, expect Konta to challenge the game’s best.
Johanna Konta faces a tough task to be fit in time but has impressed in her last three slams
The 28-year-old is now ranked at world No 13 and has reached at least the quarter-finals in her last three slams.
Her disappointment losing in the semi-finals at the French Open and quarter-finals at Wimbledon to opponents she was expected to beat has ignited the fire inside her as she targets her first career slam title.
While many will be rooting for Gauff or hoping Serena can make history, if Konta is fit she will have the support of a nation roaring her on.
Nadal seeking ATP Cup revenge
The pain was etched on his face as he was beaten by Djokovic in their singles match and Team Spain went on to lose the ATP Cup final to Team Serbia.
Whichever way pundits and fans looked at it, Djokovic had taken a psychological edge over Nadal heading to Melbourne Park.
It was Nadal and Djokovic that played out the final here 12 months ago and it was Nadal who was given a brutal lesson with a straight-set defeat. That will have hurt. Now he needs to go out and seek his revenge.
Rafael Nadal shouted out in rage as he was beaten in the final of the ATP Cup earlier this month
The Spaniard lost to Novak Djokovic (left) and he will be determined to exact revenge
More than a decade has gone by since Nadal last lifted the trophy in Melbourne and given he is one short of equalling Federer’s record of 20 slams, he will not be short of motivation this time round.
Be warned, if you poke a bear like Nadal and he gets angry, on your head be it.
Barty aiming to become first female Aussie winner since 1978
So, no pressure then. Just go and end the country’s 42-year wait for an Australian winner in the women’s singles.
That is the task facing Ash Barty as the world No 1 looks to shake off recent disappointments in warm-up events.
Defeat to Jennifer Brady at the Brisbane International set off alarm bells in some of her fans but the cool, calm and collected Barty is showing no such signs of panic.
When asked after that defeat if the pressure of an entire nation impacts her mentally, she said: ‘It doesn’t change the way that I practice, it doesn’t change the way that my team and I prepare, it doesn’t change me as a person.’
Not since Chris O’Neill in 1978 have Australia heralded a homegrown champion in Melbourne for the women’s singles and so Barty represents the best hope in decades to end the drought.
Ash Barty is world No 1 and carries the weight of a nation on her shoulders for this tournament
Tennis press conferences are never dull
Speaking of Barty, she has got the 2020 crazy tennis press conference showreel underway after she answered a reporter’s phone while in Adelaide.
Tennis has become as captivating off the court as it often is on it and the action only looks set to continue in Melbourne.
Whether it be Alexander Zverev being mesmerised by the voice of a Yorkshire-based journalist, Konta snapping back at ‘patronising’ comments or Djokovic impersonating the voice of an Italian reporter after winning his seventh Australian Open title 12 months ago.
That is the tip of the iceberg – think back to Kyrgios exposing a journalist for being with him at the pub he was at on the eve of one of his matches – and there will be many more moments of despair and hilarity from the weeks to follow in Australia.
Barty sent a room full of reporters into hysterics after she answered one of their mobile phones
Bushfire donations to flood in… provided players hit aces
This is perhaps a more poignant reason to watch but will be one of the main reasons so many people will be keen to support matches at Melbourne Park.
Kyrgios put out a tweet that he will donate $200 (£106) for every ace he produces during matches in Australia. What happened next showed the togetherness of a sport.
The Australian’s peers turned one tweet into a movement as they have joined Kyrgios in pledging an amount of money for every ace they manage to pull off.
Kyrgios kick-started the players promising donations based on performances in Australia
John Millman is not in the same financial bracket but is still keen to commit to the cause
Former world No 1 Maria Sharapova started her assistance off with a $25,000 donation to help
Kyrgios is one of the best servers on the entire ATP Tour and will be certain to achieve a raft of aces – and therefore reach a large figure in donations – but others know their serves are nowhere near as reliable.
Karolina Pliskova and Alize Cornet are also part of the group of players donating for every ace they hit and so all eyes will be on the service games of these handful of players once action gets underway.
Kyrgios’ initial tweet has transcended the sport of tennis and NBA legend Dirk Nowitzki put out in response that he will match whatever final total Kyrgios donates – highlighting how sport can be a change for good in times of crisis.
Former world No 1 Maria Sharapova wasted no time in showing her willingness to help as she revealed she was to make a $25,000 donation ahead of the tournament commencing due to how affected she has been by watching the damage done by the bushfires this year.
That act of generosity was matched by Djokovic as he insisted that players ‘stand by’ Australia during such a difficult time for the country.
Djokovic was tagged in Sharapova’s tweet and he matched her donation of $25,000 for charity
Donating for every ace has become a key trend for top players with Karolina Pliskova involved
But aces do not suit all games and so Wimbledon champion Simona Halep took a different take
Her coach and long-time friend Darren Cahill will determine every time she adds to donations
While any opponent who returns a serve by one of these players should hang their head in shame – that is very much a joke – watching the ace count will prove very interesting for those adding up how big these donations will become for each of them.
It will remain a narrative that will span the entire tournament and so this will retain interest from start to finish with so many fans keen to see the game’s top players do their bit to raise both funds and awareness.
The response has been incredible and when the aces fly across the court, expect the reactions to be something similar.
Tennis. Players. Are. Great.
Japanese player Yoshito Nishioka made a $10,000 donation to Australian Red Cross to help out
It transcends tennis with NBA legend Dirk Nowitzki matching whatever Kyrgios donates
Melbourne is where stars are born
This is one of the big reasons why the Australian Open remains one of the most interesting and open tournaments on the tennis calendar.
Players are fresh, having worked hard to recuperate in the off-season, and stars are born on both the men’s and women’s side.
Even with her US Open title win against Serena months earlier, doubts over Naomi Osaka were dispelled after she made it back-to-back slams to win the Australian Open.
Take Tsitsipas. His win over Federer here a year ago put his name on front and back pages across Europe and he has since progressed to be the current ATP Tour Finals champion.
Keep a close eye on 19-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime and 18-year-old Amanda Anisimova because those two look to have all the hallmarks of a future champion.
Naomi Osaka established herself as a force to be reckoned with when she won it in 2019
Stefanos Tsitsipas became a fan favourite after his semi-final run included beating Federer