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📗 The history
The first iteration of the Australian Open dates back more than a century — the first tournament for men was held in 1905 and the first for women in 1922, run by the Lawn Tennis Association of Australasia.
- In 1927, the tournament was renamed the Australian Championships, and in 1969, the Australian Open. Initially played across multiple major Aussie cities, Melbourne was named the sole host city in 1972.
The Open struggled to find its footing in the early years, however. Because Australia is just so dang far away, many international players resisted playing Down Under. While the three other major tournaments — Wimbledon, the French Open and the US Open — seemed to have distinct identities, the Aussie Open’s renaissance really only started in the 1990s.
- Then-director Paul McNamee made it his mission to bring the Aussie Open on equal footing with its Northern Hemisphere counterparts: “We needed to be ourselves, which was a sun-drenched nation that needs to have a big casual outdoor party,” he said.
- And party they did, with the Aussie Open now drawing in the biggest names in tennis. Swiss legend Roger Federer even nicknamed the tournament the “Happy Slam.” You can’t help but smile.
✔️ The details
Now for the nitty gritty: how does this tournament work? On Thursday the 13th, 128 men’s and women’s singles players (along with 64 doubles pairs) were drawn. Those players will go through four opening rounds, leading up to the quarterfinals. The finals are set for January 29th and 30th, local time.
- While the Open was played on grass until 1988, it’s been played on (Australian Open True Blue) hardcourt surfaces since.
Now let’s talk money. The Aussie Open’s prize pot comes in at a record total of $75 million Australian dollars (aka $54.5 million USD), a 4.5% increase from last year. Singles winners will take away $4.4 million Australian dollars (aka $3.15 million USD). Very nice.
🎾 COVID-19 on the court
The Aussie Open has recently been in the global headlines, but not because of tennis. We’ve covered the COVID-19 saga in previous newsletters and podcasts, but here’s a quick refresher on what’s been going down.
- Back in November, the Open announced that only fully vaccinated players would be allowed to participate. In addition, all spectators 12 years or older would be required to be fully vaccinated or have a valid medical exemption.
Given that over 80% of the top 100 men's singles players were vaccinated by then, and that last year’s Open also operated under strict protocol, the announcement didn’t seem to pose too much of a problem. That is until notable vaccine skeptic Novak Djokovic entered the scene.
In last week’s whirlwind, Djokovic was approved for a medical exemption, detained at the border and finally released by the Australian government. Though he was included (as the No. 1 seed) in the Open’s men’s single draw on Thursday, in a shocking twist the Joker had his visa canceled again on Friday, local time. While he has another hearing lined up, we think this is it.
- The Djokovic saga has been long and winding, but TL;DR, he’s a rule-breaker. From publicly meeting folks the day after testing positive to ticking the wrong boxes on his arrival documents, the man is a mess and a half. Good riddance.
But enough about Mr. Novax Djokovic — here are the competitors you’ll actually see taking the court.
💪 Women to watch
First things first — the Williams sisters won’t be on the court. This will be the first time since 1997 (!!!) that the Aussie Open won’t feature either Venus or Serena. While this soon-to-be end of an era has us in our feelings, there are still plenty of exciting stars to watch.
No. 1 seed Ashleigh Barty: Not to be dramatic, but our love for Ash Barty knows no bounds. The world No. 1 could become the first Aussie singles champion at the Australian Open, man or woman, since 1978.
- On top of being one of, if not the, most exciting tennis players of the moment, Barty is the National Indigenous Tennis Ambassador for Tennis Australia. We love it.
No. 13 seed Naomi Osaka: But Barty might face her toughest test yet if, as predicted, she faces reigning Aussie Open champion Naomi Osaka in the Round of 16. Osaka has taken important time off from competition this past year, so we’re thrilled to see her back on the court. Lest we forget, when she’s on, she’s on.
The kids are alright: Lucky for us, the teen queens are back — the U.K.’s Emma Raducanu will look to repeat her US Open miracle in Melbourne, starting with an opening match against American princess Sloane Stephens.
- U.S. prodigy Coco Gauff enters as the No. 18 seed, and Canadian sweetheart Leylah Fernandez will compete as the No. 23 seed.
👊 Men to watch
While Novak Djokovic was drawn as the No. 1 seed on Thursday, at the time of writing on Friday, the men’s singles seeding has not been updated in response to his visa cancellation.
World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev: Watch out for Daniil Medvedev, who lost to the Joker in last year’s final. After winning the US Open in 2021, Medvedev will be looking to level up his trophy collection this year.
World No. 3 Alexander Zverev: Alexander Zverev is by all means poised for greatness. After winning at both the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and the 2021 ATP Finals, Zverev has a chance to win his first Grand Slam and make his talent undeniable.
World No. 6 Rafael Nadal: Of the last 16 Australian Open men’s titles, 15 have been won by either Djokovic, Federer or Nadal. Especially with Djokovic (probably) out, the King of Clay has a shot to take this year’s crown.
Wild Card, Andy Murray: We can’t help but root for the man. Coming back from hip surgery, Murray enters the tournament for the first time since 2019 as a wild card.
📺 How to tune in
The Open kicks off on the 17th in Australia, so tonight in North America. You can tune in on ESPN or the Tennis Channel in the U.S., and TSN in Canada. If you’d rather read along, live updates will be posted here. If The Great British Bake-Off can be live-blogged, so can tennis.
🏈NFL Playoffs Preview
QUOTE OF THE DAY
Playoffs?! Don’t talk about playoffs! You kidding me? Playoffs?! I just hope we can win a game!
⚙️ The setup
The NFL introduced an expanded playoff format last season, so nearly half of the 32 teams now have a chance to make a Super Bowl run. It all kicks off with a “super” wild card weekend slate featuring six (!!!) games running today through Monday.
- Winners advance to next weekend’s divisional playoffs, followed by the conference championships on January 30th, and it all culminates with the true reason for the season, the Super Bowl on February 13th.
- The Tennessee Titans and Green Bay Packers secured the No. 1 seeds in the AFC and NFC, respectively, earning them automatic byes to next week’s divisional round. But that still leaves 12 teams and three days of wild card action…
🔴 AFC Wild Card
No. 4 Cincinnati Bengals vs. No. 5 Las Vegas Raiders — Today at 4:30 p.m. ET
- Luck was on Vegas’ side last week, as the Raiders punched their playoff ticket in the (literal) final seconds of the regular season after a tumultuous year for the front office.
- As for the Bengals, it’s been an up-and-down season, but the ups have been sky high thanks to quarterback (QB) Joe Burrow. Our prediction? More Jackpot Joey dance moves coming to a Cincinnati locker room soon. Party.
No. 3 Buffalo Bills vs. No. 6 New England Patriots — Today at 8:15 p.m. ET
- A matchup of AFC East rivals, this will be the third meeting between the Bills and Pats this season. New England squeaked out a win the first time around, but Buffalo triumphantly won the most recent battle. This rubber match is anyone’s for the taking.
No. 2 Kansas City Chiefs vs. No. 7 Pittsburgh Steelers — Tomorrow at 8:15 p.m. ET
- Even Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger (who could be making his final NFL appearance) is saying his squad doesn’t “have a chance,” and TBH, we have to agree, especially with KC’s QB Patrick Mahomes on fire as of late.
🔵 NFC Wild Card
No. 2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. No. 7 Philadelphia Eagles — Tomorrow at 1 p.m. ET
- The defending champion Bucs started the season as Super Bowl favorites, but many of their offensive weapons have gone down with injuries (or have just walked off the field). That said, we know better than to bet against Tompa Tom Brady.
No. 3 Dallas Cowboys vs. No. 6 San Francisco 49ers — Tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. ET
- The ’Boys rode a lockdown defense to the NFC East title, but the 49ers’ momentum can’t be overlooked — they’ve won four of their last five games. Expect the latest edition of this storied rivalry to be a close one.
No. 4 LA Rams vs. No. 5 Arizona Cardinals — Monday at 8:15 p.m. ET
- Another intra-conference battle, the Cardinals started the season 7-0, but the Rams came on late to win the NFC West.
- With the Rams’ record-breaking wide receiver (WR) Cooper Kupp on one side and Cardinals powerhouse QB Kyler Murray on the other, the real winners will be fans of high-scoring games. So…everyone?
💪 Players to watch
Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers, WR: One of the most underrated players in the league, Samuel quietly posted a record-breaking season in SF, catching and rushing for multiple touchdowns (TDs). Oh yeah, and he can throw ’em too.
Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys, QB: After suffering a season-ending ankle injury last year, Dak is back and looking better than ever, fresh off a five-TD performance in Dallas’ regular-season finale. Can he keep it going?
Aaron Donald, LA Rams, defensive tackle: The reigning Defensive Player of the Year posted 12.5 sacks this season and is the centerpiece of a stacked Rams defense. Opposing QBs, good luck.
Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals, running back (RB): Mixon rushed for 1,205 yards this year, the third-most in the league. And the last time his Bengals faced the Raiders, he had two TDs. Expect more of that today.
Travis Kelce, Kansas City, tight end (TE): Kelce has hauled in nine TDs this season, the most of any TE in the league. His bromance with his QB and bestiePatrick Mahomes will be a key one to watch.
A playoff preview wouldn’t be complete without a Super Bowl prediction, so here’s ours. Vaccination status and untruths aside, we can’t deny Packers QB Aaron Rodgers and his MVP-worthy season. We’re picking Green Bay to win the NFC.
- As for the AFC, the Titans may be the top seed, but Kansas City is undoubtedly the team to beat. We’re thinking KC will make a third straight Super Bowl appearance.
- And if you see us changing our prediction after a wild, wild card weekend…no you didn’t. Cue up Taylor Swift and, baby, let the games begin!
🎾Tennis: You’ve been served
The GIST: Another day, another update to the (yes, still) ongoing Novak Djokovic–Australian Open drama. Trust us, we’re over it, too.
Driving the news: Four days after Djokovic’s visa was reinstated (after initially being canceled for failure to meet the country’s entry requirements), Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke used his personal power to deport the No. 1 seed at the upcoming Aussie Open on Friday evening, Australia time. Crikey!
- In a statement, Hawke said that he canceled the visa, “on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so.” With the decision, Hawke sided with the 83% of Australians who wanted Djokovic out of the country.
- The Joker now likely faces a three-year ban on obtaining a new Australian visa. While he can technically launch another appeal, we have a feeling this is it.
- Djokovic confirmed that he made a false declaration on his travel form (blaming his agent in the process) and that he knowingly met with the public after testing positive for COVID-19 last month. Yeah, that’s a nope from us.
The women’s draw: While the men’s side deals with this off-court mess, we’re not so patiently waiting for the women’s on-court action. The biggest outcome from yesterday’s draw release is that No. 1 Ash Barty and No. 13 Naomi Osaka could meet in the fourth round. Please don’t make us pick a side…
- As for our Canadian contenders, No. 23 Leylah Fernandez has a clear path to the later rounds, but she could run up against No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka in the fourth. But with all of Canada (including lululemon) on her side, we’re not worried.
⚽Soccer: Kang you believe?
The GIST: The women’s soccer world giveth, the women’s soccer world taketh away. Here’s one up and one down from the business side of the beautiful game.
U.S. Soccer: Let’s start with the down. The U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) released a letter yesterday announcing that the USWNT and USMNT had not yet committed to a unified pay structure.
- ICYMI: In September 2021, the USSF offered identical contracts to both squads with the goal of aligning under a single collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The USMNT’s CBA has already expired while the USWNT’s CBA expires on March 31st.
- The problem? The USSF’s offer is largely considered a publicity stunt. Rather than fairly increasing the women’s income (what a concept), they appear to be cutting down on the men’s to meet in the middle.
- USWNT star Alex Morgan has said the squad will look at the USSF’s proposal of identical contracts, but that if it’s not “to the value that we are, then we still consider that to be not good enough.” As they should.
NWSL: Okay, now for the up…and it’s a big one! In the midst of a power struggle in the Washington Spirit front office, co-owner Y. Michele Kang has reportedly seized majority control of the club.
- For context, players and fans have called for co-owner Steve Baldwin — who resigned as CEO in October following reports of harassment and toxicity within the team — to sell his shares of the team to Kang.
- Despite Kang’s higher offer, Baldwin was looking to sell the team to an ownership group led by businessman Todd Boehly. Ahh, the patriarchy.
- But Kang threw down a UNO reverse card yesterday. By gaining support from investors formerly aligned with Baldwin, Kang now holds majority control and can vote on governance issues, such as the sale of the club. We have no choice but to stan.
🎾Tennis: Liar, liar, setting the sports world on fire
The GIST: Novak Djokovic’s reward for lying? The No. 1 men’s seed in next week’s Australian Open.
- After initially being granted a “medical exemption” to compete in the Grand Slam, Djokovic had his visa revoked upon arrival in Australia last week and was detained for four days, before ultimately winning a legal battle to reinstate his visa on Monday.
The latest: Clearly this is a complicated situation, and it's only become messier as new
lies details continue to emerge. For starters, reports broke yesterday that Djokovic claimed on an immigration form that he did not travel for 14 days before his flight to Australia…despite publicly traveling in that span. We have the receipts, sir.
- What’s more, it appears Djokovic also broke COVID-19 regulations in his home country of Serbia, as he attended multiple events (sans mask) after testing positive on December 16th. Yes, seriously.
- And there could be yet another twist to this saga. The Australian immigration minister still holds the power to deport the Joker and is reportedly “thoroughly considering” doing so. To be continued…
The women’s tourney: In on-court (and good) news, the women’s field is set. Australia’s own Ash Barty will look to ride the No. 1 seed to her first-ever Aussie Open title, while defending champ Naomi Osaka came in at lucky number 13 after withdrawing from a tune-up event last week.