Less than a week of 2021 has passed and the usual curious tales and clashes within tennis have already begun to rear their ugly heads.

After a 2020 that contained swathes of covidiocy, a cancellation of Wimbledon and a breakaway political faction – yes, there was some tennis sandwiched in between there, too – 2021 has followed suit with a string of early controversies.

Ion Tiriac, the outspoken Madrid Open tournament director, has already inexplicably taken aim at tennis great Serena Williams, suggesting the only decent thing for her to do was retire.

‘At this age and the weight she is now, she does not move as easily as she did 15 years ago,’ Tiriac said. ‘Serena was a sensational player. If she had a little decency, she would retire.’

Her husband Alexis Ohanian, perhaps more accurately, suggested the only decent thing to do was to ignore Ion Tiriac – a man he labelled as a ‘racist, sexist clown’.

Meanwhile, the USA’s Sam Querrey – one of the many Covidiots of the ATP Tour in 2020 – offered an exclusive interview with SI to explain why he had fled St Petersburg despite testing positive for coronavirus.

The tale was about as convincing as the UK’s lax approach to people entering this country during the pandemic. How fitting, then, that Covid-stricken Querrey fled from Russia to London.

For his ‘major offence’, Querrey was given a suspended fine of $20,000 by the toothless ATP. Put simply, he will pay nothing unless he somehow breaches coronavirus rules in the next six months.

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Querrey will be among those travelling to Australia later this month. Despite many hoping to fly in the next 10 days, flight details are yet to be finalised for players, while one of the hotels scheduled to be used for the two-week quarantinee period upon arrival has been changed after permanent residents within the hotel kicked off.

Surely the season can’t keep up at this pace!

Schedules have, at least, been provisionally released. The WTA today rolled out their calendar until July, which gave the impression there remains a bit of one-upmanship between the governing bodies of men’s and women’s tennis. The ATP has so far only put out a schedule until April.

Seeing Wimbledon – cancelled for the first time since WWII last year – firmly planted in the WTA calendar did bring a smile to this reporter’s face on Tuesday afternoon, although a full capacity event seems far-fetched.

On top of the return of one of the most iconic events in sport, tennis has a series of fascinating ongoing storylines developing.

With Roger Federer a confirmed absence at the Australian Open, his great rival Rafael Nadal – who drew level with Federer by winning a postponed French Open in October – will now get a shot at moving beyond the Swiss in the all-time men’s Grand Slam titles charts.

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A second Nadal win in Melbourne – where third ‘Big Three’ member Novak Djokovic reigns supreme – seems unlikely but a 14th title at Roland Garros in May should seal his place at the top of the leaderboard.



Most Grand Slam titles

ATP

20 – Nadal
20 – Federer
17 – Djokovic

WTA

24 – Court
23 – Williams
22 – Graf

Djokovic will all but certainly clinch another of Federer’s records this year. He is set to pass the Swiss’ total number of weeks spent at world No. 1 in March.

The Serb, a 17-time major winner, will also continue to be hot on the heels of 20-time Slam champions Nadal and Federer, while he will look to further establish his tearaway Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA).

While Djokovic was not allowed to stand in the elections for the ATP player council due to his role in co-founding the PTPA, his rivals, Nadal, Federer and Andy Murray have all been elected.

An unhappy Djokovic, rightly, took aim at other conflicts of interest that are rampant within tennis, and it would be a surprise if there wasn’t more political unrest during the course of the year.

While the three-way race for supremacy in the men’s game continues apace, Serena Williams’ long, drawn out chase for Margaret Court’s all-time Grand Slam record continues.

It looks increasingly unlikely that she will surpass the controversial Aussie, but history has taught us to think twice before writing off these giants of the sport.

The competition is getting tougher for the golden oldies. Dominic Thiem – who won the US Open – and ATP Finals champion Daniil Medvedev have become serious threats to the ‘Big Three’ dominance along with Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas, while Ash Barty, Naomi Osaka, Iga Swiatek, Bianca Andreescu and Sofia Kenin are all Grand Slam champions under the age of 24 who look set to usher in a strong new era of women’s tennis.

Behind them comes prodigious talent Coco Gauff, who turns 17 in March, who will no doubt continue to climb the rankings having cracked the top-50.

The same should be said of world No. 36 Jannik Sinner, 19, while Canadian duo Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime – both inside the top-25 – can expect to push for a place among the world’s elite.

At the other end of the spectrum, the end could well be nigh for Federer and Serena Williams. Both all-time greats turn 40 in 2021.

Serena Williams and Roger Federer both turn 40 this year (Picture: TPN/Getty)

This season could prove to be their last hurrahs. Federer has made no secret of the fact he is selectively targeting Wimbledon, the Tokyo Olympics – a title both he and Djokovic are yet to win – and the US Open, while Williams will no doubt love to join an exclusive three-woman club of Grand Slam-winning mothers.

From a British perspective, Andy Murray will hope his physical woes are behind him as he targets a charge at an unlikely Wimbledon win, while Johanna Konta, Dan Evans and Kyle Edmund are all capable of ending this season as top-20 players.

With the pandemic still gripping the world, there are few guarantees in the tennis world this season. But one thing is for sure, it won’t rumble on quietly.

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