Every year at this time, we write about Australia.
This is when one of the country's biggest sporting events takes place: the Australian Open. The Grand Slam tournament is one of the four most important in the world of tennis.
But we've already been writing about Australia quite a bit so far. And the news hasn't been happy.
Record waves of bushfires have been burning since September. And though relief has finally arrived in some parts of the country, we don't want to discuss the Open without looking into how the country and its wildlife are faring.
A rough beginning
The Australian Open is held in Melbourne, which is in the state of Victoria. This city is on the southeastern coast of the country, and escaped most of the direct danger from the fires as they burned mostly in the nearby state of New South Wales (to the east) and Queensland (to the northeast).
Even so, conditions for last week's qualifying rounds (where lower-ranked players compete to enter the main tournament) were not good. Dense smoke from the fires were carried by winds into the city. Many players complained about not being able to breathe comfortably, including Australian Bernard Tomic and Canada's Eugenie Bouchard. One, Slovenia’s Dalila Jakupovic, even withdrew from the tournament.
Canada without its best?
With the start of the main tournament yesterday, came happier news. Rain. Lots and lots of rain.
Normally, rain in tennis isn't great news. You can't play! But with Australia suffering from drought and bushfires, it was very welcome.
The downpour did mean that one Canadian — Milos Raonic — was stuck on the edge of winning his match. He'll continue later tonight, leading Lorenzo Giustino 6–1, 6–2, 5–2.
Meanwhile, Canada has several other players in the mix. But last year's breakout superstar, Bianca Andreescu is nursing an injury and not appearing (Bummer!). And the country's top-ranked male player, Denis Shapovalov is already out! He lost yesterday to Hungary's Marton Fucsovics.
But there are still Canucks to root for! In addition to Raonic, there's rising star Felix Auger-Aliassime, veteran Vasek Pospisil, and an intriguing newcomer: 17-year-old Leylah Annie Fernandez. It's her first-ever Grand Slam tournament and we can't wait to see her play!
< h2>Better, but not over
As for the bushfires themselves, rain across much of the county has helped stop several of the bigger fires. It has brought a moment of rest to fire crews that have been fighting the flames non-stop for months. But it has not brought an end to them altogether.
Australia's so-called 'fire season' — the time when bushfires are usually most common — is actually only just beginning. Usually the end of January and February are the most dangerous. And while the rain is welcome, the country's vegetation has been dried out by three years of low rainfall. This means that things can dry out again in a hurry.
An ace idea
Back on the tennis court, players are participating in the Aces For Bushfire Relief program (an ace is an unreturned serve). For every ace hit in the tournament, organizers and sponsors are donating money — several stars are adding in money from their own pocket as well.
So far, the program has already raised over $5 million Australian dollars — great news considering things have only just begun! We'll be keeping an eye on both Canada's young players and the tournament itself over the next two weeks.
It's one that is about a lot more than just tennis this year.