A look ahead to the Australian Open

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The perspective of

On 16th January, the Australian Open will kickstart the 2023 Tennis season. Current men’s singles champion Rafael Nadal has been struggling with injuries and form, but the biggest story going into the tournament is Novak Djokovic’s return after the ‘Novax Djokovic’ saga last year, as his refusal to get vaccinated saw him dramatically deported from the country.

What happens Down Under will set the tone for an unusually open season.

Djokovic comes into this tournament very positively. At the time of writing, he has reached the semi-finals of the Adelaide Open and despite being world number five, is the bookies’ favourites to take the title. 2022 was a relatively barren year for the Serb, with only one Grand Slam title.

He is one away from equalling Nadal’s record 22 victories and one would imagine he is motivated to draw level with his long-term rival. He has already won a staggering nine Australian Open titles in his career.

Nadal himself currently sits second in the ATP rankings. However, he has lost six out of seven games since tearing his abdomen at last year’s US Open, including losses to Britain’s Cameron Norrie and Australia’s own Alex de Minaur in the United Cup this month. Despite this, everyone knows how genuinely unbelievable Nadal’s mental fortitude is, so one would be foolish to dismiss his chances.

Cameron Norrie is Britain’s greatest hope of success and he currently sits at world number fourteen. Though he may be best on clay, Norrie has undoubtedly improved on hard courts and will be looking to improve on his third round exit in this competition last year. Jack Draper has also been making waves on the tour recently, rapidly rising to 43rd in the world and he might just be our country’s next Grand Slam winner.

What happens Down Under will set the tone for an unusually open season

Meanwhile, national icon Andy Murray seems to have plateaued in performance following his return from his two hip surgeries and is unlikely to challenge, but should provide entertaining grit in the first few rounds. And finally on the British scene is Dan Evans, who comes into the tournament after an unbeaten ‘Battle of the Brits’ tournament. Given a friendly draw, Evans could push for the quarter-finals.

There is plenty of hope for the Aussies themselves. 23 year-old Alex de Minaur has been flirting with the top twenty for a couple of years now and is in excellent form. He is hugely popular in his home country thanks to his unique resilience on court. In contrast, it is unknown how seriously Nick Kyrgios will take this tournament. The Wimbledon finalist has reached a relatively lofty 22nd in the world considering how little he plays on tour. But with a break behind him and a raucous home crowd cheering him on, he could be cooking up a storm once more.

Elsewhere, Alexander Zverev is fit again following his horrible ankle injury and could pose a threat.

A dangerous group has emerged within the top ten of extremely capable hard-court players in search of a maiden Grand Slam; Felix Auger-Aliassime, Casper Ruud, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev and Taylor Fritz all have the form and pedigree to potentially go all the way, and each will feel they are owed a Grand Slam following years of good results.

Moreover, Daniil Medvedev is always a dangerous customer and currently sits at seventh in the world. An Australian Open title would complement his 2021 US Open trophy excellently.

As ever, there are plenty of contenders waiting in the wings to spring a surprise. Denmark’s world number eleven, Holger Rune, may not be the most popular name on the tour but his fiery demeanour has brought plenty of success, so he could be a name to watch out for.

We may even see a British success, though it appears Norrie has reached his peak and it may be a few more years before Draper can really challenge

Young American Jenson Brooksby is another player who could have a big tournament. The world number 48 is highly rated by many players on the tour but has flattered to deceive in the Grand Slams in his young career to date. Now is the time he could really step up.

And finally, at 52nd in the world, Gael Monfils is a safe bet for theatrical tennis; he will be making the most of the few tournaments he has left at 36 years old.

It seems that with every new tennis season, the expectation is that we will finally leave the years of the big three behind. Though Nadal may finally succumb to his body’s limits, vintage Djokovic will undoubtedly emerge at times.

However, expect to see at least one new Grand Slam winner sandwiched between a Djokovic and Alcaraz duopoly. We may even see a British success, though it appears Norrie has reached his peak and it may be a few more years before Draper can really challenge.

’s view

The first Grand Slam of 2023, the Australian Open, kicks off on Monday. Although this edition isn’t (thus far) steeped in controversy like last year’s, it is sure to be a thrilling start to the season.

Tournament director Craig Tiley has confirmed that participants will not need to withdraw if they test positive for Covid-19, making this the first Australian Open unaffected by the pandemic since it began. It’s good news for all players, but especially Novak Djokovic who hopes to put the drama of his deportation saga behind him. With his visa ban overturned, his Grand Slam preparations started in style with victory at the Adelaide International 1 warm-up tournament.

As usual, Djokovic is one of the main contenders. Despite a lack of match fitness towards the end of 2022 – largely due to his unvaccinated status barring him from the US – he has won every match he has played so far in 2023. His nine titles here make the Australian Open his most successful tournament, and an ideal place to challenge Rafael Nadal’s record of 22 Grand Slams.

Questions remain over how the Melbourne crowds will receive Djokovic, given his stance on vaccination in a city which suffered some of the world’s longest lockdowns. Crowds for his practice charity match against Nick Kyrgios (another polarising figure) sold out in under an hour; but whether this enthusiasm will carry into the tournament itself remains to be seen.

Djokovic was received warmly in Adelaide, and Tiley has issued a stern warning that spectators caught booing will be ejected.

Scores of other big names will descend on Melbourne this week, but there are also some noticeable absences. Four-time Slam champion Naomi Osaka had been a doubt for some time, but she announced her withdrawal along with her pregnancy announcement this week.

Djokovic was received warmly in Adelaide, and Tiley has issued a stern warning that spectators caught booing will be ejected

Chief among the absentees is injured Carlos Alcaraz, the 19-year-old superstar, youngest ever men’s world number one, and most recent Grand Slam champion. This means that two years in a row, the men’s number one will be missing from the Australian Open.

The Australian cohort has some strong potential, foremost among them Kyrgios whose Wimbledon final appearance last year capped his best season yet. The perennial bad boy of tennis has been hyped by commentators since he beat Nadal as a teenage wildcard in 2014 but might finally have reached the point of challenging for majors.

On the women’s side Ajla Tomljanovic – victor in Serena Williams’ final-ever match – has withdrawn citing a knee injury, denting the possibility of a home champion to succeed Ash Barty.

Harriet Dart and Emma Raducanu will represent Great Britain, with the latter hoping to avoid the injury problems which have plagued her since her breakthrough victory at the 2021 US Open. She injured an ankle in the second round in Auckland but is “optimistic” she is ready for Melbourne.    

Women’s tennis has been a wide-open field in recent years, and this tournament promises to be no different. Barty’s retirement means there is no defending champion. World number one and three-time Slam champion Iga Swiatek will thus headline the women’s draw.

Women’s tennis has been a wide-open field in recent years, and this tournament promises to be no different

Her shaky start to the year has somewhat evened the playing field. Ons Jabeur, a two-time finalist in 2022, will be seeking to finally claim a major, while Jessica Pegula, Caroline Garcia, and Aryna Sabalenka will all fancy their chances after strong showings last season.

On the men’s side, Scandinavians Casper Ruud and Holger Rune will also aim to make their mark after successful seasons last year, as the stranglehold of the ‘Big Four’ at the peak of men’s tennis ebbs away.

Predictions? It’s hard not to see Swiatek and Djokovic maintaining their grip at the top, but with several up-and-coming players finally on the cusp of winning majors, it’s all to play for.

Image: Rexness via Flickr

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