Peter Bothwell casts his expert eye over the big Australian Open talking points

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
The likes of Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams will be looking to start their season in style when the Australian Open gets underway in Melbourne on Monday.

It hasn’t been straightforward for organisers to get the tournament on in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, but with players being forced to quarantine upon arrival and other protocols in place, it will go ahead with fans also in attendance.

Peter Bothwell became the first Northern Irishman to break into the ATP rankings in 2014, reaching a career-high of 620 before retiring last summer and he has since made the transition into coaching.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The 25-year-old, who also represented Ireland at the Davis Cup, provides his expert analysis ahead of the tournament, picking out who he thinks could be holding silverware aloft in the Rod Laver Arena in a couple of weeks.

Peter Bothwell has now turned his focus to coaching after retiring from the sport lasts summer.Peter Bothwell has now turned his focus to coaching after retiring from the sport lasts summer.
Peter Bothwell has now turned his focus to coaching after retiring from the sport lasts summer.

Q. How do you think players will have been affected by quarantine and playing during these times?

A. Obviously it’s difficult to fly over there and then to be stuck in a room for two weeks.

I know the players were given spin bikes after a couple of days, which is going to help slightly but they are going to be at a disadvantage compared to the players that didn’t have to quarantine.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Players knew the risk when they were travelling. The ATP and Tennis Australia held Zoom calls, which I know all players didn’t attend, but in those meetings they stated that if anyone on that flight tests positive then everyone would have to quarantine.

You can do as much fitness as you want in your room and I would even say as much as you want outside the court, but unless you’re on the court repeating match situations and live points, the fitness side is so different to work on the court.

When you do pre-season and a four-to-six-week block in the gym and on the track, it’s still really hard to go out onto the court and play, especially for the guys who will potentially have to play five sets.

They will have had seven or 10 days of practice and there are a couple of warm-up tournaments, but there is probably no-one that has experienced that before where they’ve had to stay in a room for two weeks and then get 10 days to get ready to compete.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

They’re probably all in great shape after completing their pre-season block, but I think they’ll probably take a physical hit.

If you look at it from another perspective, that could loosen them up because their expectations are a little bit lower and they might end up playing freely because of it.

Q. A few players came in for criticism over how they handled everything, but how do you feel tennis has navigated its way through Covid?

A. I think the ATP and WTA have done a pretty good job to get these events going in the current climate.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It’s pretty poor when Tennis Australia, ATP and WTA are putting Zoom calls on with players so they understand the situation that only about 30% of the players are turning up – that’s embarrassing.

How can you complain when you don’t even know the rules in place? That had a bad look on the sport and people were saying that these players are so entitled and expect everything.

They are going to a country that is Covid-free where they had really tough restrictions, so they should be grateful that they are able to compete.

Q. As a coach, would you be doing anything differently here to any other tournament?

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A. I know a couple of players got cleared at 11:30pm and were on court then at 12 to strike a few balls, which I would have been doing too.

The first couple of days you’re just trying to find rhythm on the court, feel like you’re moving efficiently and timing the ball and then you’d be going into more point situations, serve and return and getting more important shots dialled in.

After two or three days you have your feel back and know what you’re doing.

It’s not like six months have gone by and you’ve forgot how to hit the ball!

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Q. Novak Djokovic won his 8th Australian Open title last year. Do you see him winning the tournament again this time round?

He is definitely favourite for the title.

He had a couple of good wins in the ATP Cup and he was looking really sharp in those matches as well and he seems to love the conditions in Australia.

With him winning so many titles there, it’s hard for someone to come up against him and really feel like they’ve the confidence to beat him, so he’s definitely the favourite.

Q. Who is your pick for women’s champion?

A. It is very open. I have a feeling that Iga Swiatek, who has won a Grand Slam, has a lot of potential and I really like the team she has around her.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Maria Sakkari could be really dangerous and you also have a Russian player called Daria Kasatkina who has been in the top-30 before but she has dropped down quite a bit – I think she will have a good season.

Those are a couple of outsiders, but you still have to look at Serena (Williams) and Simona Halep as two of the favourites.

Q. Who are some other players that people should be keeping an eye on?

A. You’re looking at Jannik Sinner who is going to be a Grand Slam champion.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Stefanos Tsitsipas is already in the top ten but he has a huge game and I think the conditions out there are going to suit him and another would be 17-year-old Carlos Alcaraz Garfia.

For Australian’s, you have to enjoy a bit of Nick Kyrgios. I know he splits opinion but he is great for the sport, is an entertainer and is unbelievable when he’s on.

It depends how Nick is feeling for the next two weeks but I certainly wouldn’t put it past him going on a deep run.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.