By James Matthey
There are some long, tough days as a fan under the unforgiving Melbourne sun at the Australian Open — and there's a reason they might be feeling even longer this year.
Those who've forked out their hard-earned cash to wander around the Melbourne Park precinct may be wishing they hadn't given the noticeable lack of star power screaming out to capture people's attention at the year's first major.
It's a reality that slaps you in the face when looking at the schedule from the past couple of days.
Spectators would love to gaze down the list of names in action on a particular day and wonder how they're going to squeeze in all the matches they're desperate to see — it's a problem when time is your enemy, but it's a good problem to have.
But in 2018 fans have — not entirely, but for the most part — been spared that tricky situation.
A glance at Wednesday's draw — particularly the day matches — highlighted the ugly reality. Sure, Caroline Wozniacki and Rafael Nadal were playing on Rod Laver Arena, and the five-setter between Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Denis Shapovalov on Margaret Court Arena turned out to be the match of the day, but apart from that the cupboard was largely bare.
What casual observer is going to check out Katerina Siniakova vs Elina Svitolina on centre court? Or Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs Kateryna Bondarenko? Or Jaziri Malek vs Gilles Muller? Or Pablo Carreno Busta vs Gilles Simon?
By the looks of this photo, not many.
It may seem unfair to cast doubt on these players' pulling power — after all, Svitolina is seeded fourth, Pavlyuchenkova 15th and Carreno Busta 10th — but they don't demand eyeballs on them. As good a player as the No. 2 seed Wozniacki is, she doesn't have the same aura as say Serena Williams.
The prime-time slots on Margaret Court Arena only featured one seeded player on Wednesday night as Alize Cornet and Julia Georges (12) preceded Alexandr Dolgopolov's clash against Aussie Matthew Ebden.
The withdrawals of Williams and Victoria Azarenka — who both pulled out of the tournament for personal reasons — added to the shock opening-round losses of CoCo Vandeweghe, Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens, have made the women's draw unappealing to the average punter.
Wozniacki is quality but would you rather watch the Dane or the lower ranked Vandeweghe, a fiery hothead? We know who we'd choose.
The men's draw has been hampered by the absences of Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori, who are both injured, but that's not the only problem. A look at the top-ranked players reveals the dire truth.
Dominic Thiem, Marin Cilic and David Goffin are ranked fifth, sixth and seventh respectively, while American Jack Sock — who lost in the first round — is ninth in the world. Names like Kevin Anderson and Sam Querrey are ranked above Novak Djokovic, whose standing has slipped because of time out with injury.
Would you cross the road to watch any of those people play, especially when it's 39C in the shade as it is in Melbourne today? Not every day of the week you wouldn't.
They're obviously high-class players, but they lack the X-factor that makes fans want to watch them and kids want to be like them.
Gone too from the singles draw is Lleyton Hewitt, although countryman Sam Groth did convince the Davis Cup captain to come out of retirement to partner him in the doubles, while Bernard Tomic's absence is also a major blow.
The Aussie tennis brat may not have the public on his side but he's a human headline machine and his on-court antics and speak-first-think-later addresses to the media make his matches and press conferences compulsive viewing.
The Aussie bloodbath on day two also robbed fans of reasons to brave the Melbourne heat. Ajla Tomljanovic, Thanasi Kokkinakis, Jordan Thompson, Alex De Minaur, Lizette Cabrera, Alexei Popyrin and Destanee Aiava all fell on Tuesday. That, combined with Sam Stosur's latest first-round exit from her home grand slam, hasn't helped.
This isn't a dig at the Australian Open, this is just the reality of tennis in 2018. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have returned from injury lay-offs, but how much longer can they last?
Djokovic enjoyed a mind-blowing run in 2015-16 but lost form and has been let down by his body of late. They can't be the faces of tennis forever.
Along with Australia's Nick Kyrgios, Grigor Dimitrov and Alexander Zverev are the brightest characters leading the charge for Gen Next, but they need a support crew, and at this stage there aren't many obvious candidates to fill those positions.
Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova and Carolina Garcia in the WTA top-10 are all unquestionably fine players, but is the man or woman on the street able to pick them out of a line-up? Probably not. They've got talent but not the star power of a Williams or Maria Sharapova or Martina Hingis.
For tennis purists, this probably doesn't matter — and that's perfectly understandable. But for the Average Joe who only tunes in to watch at grand slams four times a year, they might struggle to justify picking up the remote next time a major hits their TV screen, at least for the next few years to come.