At Australian Open, some players say they ignore the bracket

Jan 16, 2023, 5:44 AM | Updated: 7:47 pm
Spectators stand by an illustration of 2022 champions Ash Barty and Rafael Nadal, ahead of first ro...

Spectators stand by an illustration of 2022 champions Ash Barty and Rafael Nadal, ahead of first round matches at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

(AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

              Iga Swiatek of Poland plays a backhand return to Jule Niemeier of Germany during their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
            
              Australia's Alexei Popyrin plays a backhand return to United States' Taylor Fritz during their match at the Kooyong Classic in Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake)
            
              Frances Tiafoe of the U.S. reacts after defeating Daniel Altmaier of Germany in their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
            
              Caroline Garcia of France serves to Katherine Sebov of Canada during their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
            
              Spectators stand by an illustration of 2022 champions Ash Barty and Rafael Nadal, ahead of first round matches at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Awaiting a new topic during a pre-Australian Open news conference, Caroline Garcia — someone skilled and smart enough to reach the U.S. Open semifinals and win the season-ending WTA Finals in 2022 — was worried the next query could involve naming possible opponents.

“I don’t want to know the draw!” Garcia blurted out, raising her left hand as if to literally deflect the subject. “I don’t know my draw!”

She is hardly the only athlete making that claim at Melbourne Park during the year’s first Grand Slam tournament, where the second round begins Wednesday. Actually, it is a rather common refrain among tennis players as they move from stop to stop on the tour, even ones as successful as No. 1-ranked Iga Swiatek.

They insist it is important to remain blissfully unaware of any potential path to a title and offer various reasons, ranging from superstition to an insistence on — yes, you probably guessed it — that old cliche about “playing one match at a time.”

“I didn’t really see the draw,” three-time major champion Swiatek said last weekend, before play began. “I only know who I’m playing (in the) first round.”

They haven’t glanced at the bracket, they say.

They won’t, they say.

And they absolutely, positively, do not want anyone else — a coach, an agent, a physical therapist, a hitting partner, a friend or (heaven forbid!) a journalist — sneaking a peek and revealing what the draw sheet might hold in store.

It can’t be easy to avoid knowing more than that, given all of the attention on the tournament and the giant bracket posted on the side of Rod Laver Arena, where Swiatek won her first-round match Monday night.

As No. 5-seeded Aryna Sabalenka pointed out, social media makes keeping blinders on tough, too. Talk of a player’s path to a championship is constant.

“Someone is going to post a prediction (of) who I’m going to play, so, anyway, I would see that,” said Sabalenka, who takes on Shelby Rogers of the U.S. on Thursday. “I’m not opening the draw and trying to see, ‘OK, I’m going to face that, that, that.’ No, no, no, I’m not doing that. I’m just trying to take it one step at a time.”

There are 128 entrants in the women’s singles event at each of the four Grand Slam tournaments and another 128 in the men’s singles. It takes getting past seven rounds to earn the trophy.

So it seems as if it might be the sensible — even advisable — approach to be fully aware of what, of who, could lie ahead.

Which is why some, such as Frances Tiafoe, the 24-year-old American seeded 16th, thinks it’s nonsense for players to say they are not aware of what’s out there.

“Everyone who says they don’t (know), they’re lying, man,” said Tiafoe, a semifinalist at last year’s U.S. Open. “You know who’s around. You know what the potential matchups look like. But you can’t make those potential matchups unless you take care of the food that’s in front of you.”

No. 6 seed Felix-Auger Aliassime, for one, acknowledged as much.

“I don’t refuse to look; I look a little bit further down the draw,” Auger-Aliassime said. “But it still doesn’t change that I’m totally focused and locked in on the first match I have to play. I’ve had great moments in Grand Slams, but also some very tough moments — losing earlier, like first or second round — so I’m always aware that you never can take anything for granted.”

Swiatek says she used to check out the draw but now she doesn’t.

Same for Alexei Popyrin, an Australian who is 113th in the ATP rankings.

“I used to look ahead. I used to look at every kind of step of the draw when the draw came out. I’ve kind of stopped that. I’m trying to take it one match at a time. Just focus on the match ahead, not look forward to the second or third round or fourth round,” Popyrin said. “It’s not the best to look ahead when you haven’t even done the first step. For me, that was a learning process.”

Don’t look now, but Popyrin could meet No. 8 seed Taylor Fritz of the U.S. in the second round if both won their opening matches.

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at https://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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At Australian Open, some players say they ignore the bracket