The return of Novak Djokovic. The hunt for continued dominance by one of many sport’s brightest younger stars in Iga Swiatek. The beginning of a brand-new season.

That is proper, it is summertime Down Underneath and which means only one factor — it is Australian Open time.

And for sure, there’s a lot occurring on the “Completely satisfied Slam” this 12 months.

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Contemporary off an unimaginable 2022 season, and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it offseason, the primary main of the brand new 12 months is upon us. Final 12 months’s event noticed greater than its fair proportion of drama, beginning with the deportation of Djokovic and ending with the unbelievable victories of Ashleigh Barty, who turned the primary Australian to win the event since 1978, and Rafael Nadal, who broke the document for many Grand Slam titles by a male participant. Since then, Barty has retired from the game and Nadal earned one more main trophy in Paris however struggled with accidents later within the season.

Will Nadal do Nadal issues and discover a method to defend his title? Who will step up within the absence of the newly retired Serena Williams and Roger Federer to create world headlines and curiosity? May Nick Kyrgios turn out to be the primary Australian man to win at house in 47 years? Listed here are the gamers and storylines it’s good to know heading into the 2023 Australian Open.

Djokovic is again

It is simple to overlook that till lately Djokovic was known as the “King of Melbourne,” due to his astonishing 9 titles on the Australian Open. However then 2022 occurred and, effectively, we’re not fairly positive that nickname nonetheless holds.

Forward of final 12 months’s occasion, Djokovic discovered himself in the course of a worldwide firestorm and authorized battle on account of his unvaccinated standing. He in the end had his visa revoked and was deported from the nation simply hours earlier than the principle draw bought underway. It was a debacle and dominated the primary a number of days of the event. Initially it appeared as if Djokovic can be banned from getting into Australia for 3 years, however he was granted a visa and began his season in Adelaide this month.

So now the query is: What can we anticipate from Djokovic? Regardless of taking part in a restricted schedule in 2022 attributable to journey restraints, he nonetheless received Wimbledon, the ATP Finals and three different titles, and he opened 2023 with the title at Adelaide. So he stays one in all, if not the favourite for the trophy. Nonetheless, as unflappable as he usually appears on the court docket, it is going to be a tall order to place all of these emotions from 2022 to the aspect.

“Clearly what occurred 12 months in the past was not simple for me, for my household, staff, anyone who’s near me …” Djokovic mentioned. “You’ll be able to’t overlook these occasions. It is one in all this stuff that stays with you for, I suppose, the remainder of your life. It is one thing that I’ve by no means skilled earlier than and hopefully by no means once more. However it’s a helpful life expertise for me and one thing that as I mentioned will keep there, however I’ve to maneuver on.”

If Djokovic had been to win, he would tie Nadal with 22 main titles, and be only one behind Serena Williams for essentially the most within the Open period. As if there wasn’t sufficient already on the road for him or something.

Present No. 1 on this planet Iga Swiatek is the plain favourite for the title this 12 months. Graham Denholm/Getty Pictures

No. 1 is not accomplished (no less than not one in all them anyway)

Previous to Carlos Alcaraz’s withdrawal final week attributable to a proper leg damage, it seemed as if each of the reigning US Open champions can be searching for back-to-back main titles. However alas, that isn’t to be.

However whereas Alcaraz will not be there, Swiatek actually might be, and she or he might be making an attempt to cement her standing because the inheritor obvious for tennis’ famous person title. With Williams and Federer already retired, and Djokovic and Nadal nearing the ends of their careers, and within the absence of Alcaraz, all eyes will squarely be on her to step into these ever-so-large footwear.

The 21-year-old has already received three main titles and firmly held onto the highest rating since Barty retired in April. As a two-time French Open champion, her dominance on clay has been evident for a while, however she proved she is simply as dominant on the arduous courts in 2022.

Throughout her mind-blowing 37-match win streak, the primary 19 of mentioned victories had been on the floor and she or he earned three 1000-level hard-court titles (Qatar, Indian Wells, Miami) throughout that run. Swiatek reached the semifinals in Melbourne final season and is maybe the largest ladies’s favourite to win a significant title since Serena in her prime. To not point out, the US Open victory gave her an additional dose of confidence about her recreation.

“It is a affirmation for me that [the] sky is the restrict,” she mentioned in September.

Swiatek began the 2023 season by main the Polish staff to the semifinals on the United Cup and recording straight-sets victories in her first three singles matches, together with towards Belinda Bencic. Though she was handed a surprising 6-2, 6-2 loss by Jessica Pegula within the semis, the usually unflappable Swiatek will doubtless use that as motivation in Melbourne.

Talking of momentum …

Whereas Swiatek is a heavy favourite and coming off a monumental season, there are a number of others who completed 2022 on even hotter streaks that they’ll look to proceed within the new 12 months. Caroline Garcia, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Holger Rune mixed for seven particular person titles from August by means of the tip of the season.

Caroline Garcia received the 2022 WTA Finals. Robert Prange/Getty Pictures

No lady was extra dominant on the arduous court docket in the course of the latter a part of 2022 than Garcia, who received the title in Cincinnati, notched the primary main semifinal look of her profession on the US Open and concluded the 12 months with a WTA Finals trophy — and an identical cowboy hat.

Auger-Aliassime, 22, notched three consecutive titles in October, and helped lead Canada to its first Davis Cup victory and Crew World to a Laver Cup title. Throughout that dominant stretch, he defeated Djokovic, Nadal and Alcaraz and made it clear he might beat nearly anybody.

However the man who stopped Auger-Aliassime’s win streak? That may be 19-year-old Rune. After shedding to the Canadian on the Swiss Indoors remaining, Rune bought his revenge on the semifinals of the Paris Masters the very subsequent week. Rune then beat Djokovic, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, to win the 1000-level title, his second title of the autumn.

Yup, 2023 could possibly be an enormous 12 months for all three of those gamers.

Nadal’s Jordan Slam?

Few anticipated Nadal to win the 2022 Australian Open. He had missed a lot of the second half of the 2021 season with a persistent foot damage and had been bed-ridden with COVID-19 shortly earlier than leaving for Australia in December. However he was all like, “21, CAN YOU DO SOMETHING FOR ME?” and his trademark tenacity carried him to an unbelievable victory, together with a comeback five-set thriller towards Daniil Medvedev within the remaining. Please take a second to remind your self of how epic that win was by rewatching the spotlight under.

A 12 months later, Nadal arrives in Melbourne in the same scenario. He struggled with accidents for a lot of the latter a part of the season and was compelled to withdraw forward of the Wimbledon semifinals with a recurring stomach tear. He was upset by Frances Tiafoe within the fourth spherical on the US Open and performed sparingly after, recording a 1-3 document to finish 2022. The brand new 12 months hasn’t began significantly better — he misplaced his solely two matches on the United Cup.

But when there’s one factor we all know for positive, regardless of how Nadal is feeling, he’ll give one hundred pc and do every thing he can to win if he is taking part in. He can by no means be counted out. If he had been to win his third title in Melbourne, he would additional his lead for essentially the most by a male participant, tie Serena Williams’ Open period document and be only one behind Margaret Courtroom’s all-time mark of 24.

It is Nadal. Something is feasible.

So shut they will virtually style it (the remaining remains to be unwritten)

Within the 2022 season, each Ons Jabeur and Casper Ruud reached the primary Grand Slam remaining of their respective careers — Jabeur at Wimbledon and Ruud on the French Open — after which they every reached their second main championship match on the US Open later in the summertime. Whereas that could be a large feat by itself, and marked historic firsts for his or her house international locations of Tunisia and Norway, each walked away title-less from their efforts.

However now the query is: How will final 12 months’s disappointments gas them going into the primary main of 2023? They’ve each proved how good they are often on the arduous courts and know what it takes to make a deep run. Maybe Melbourne is the place the No. 2 seed Jabeur and/or No. 3 seed Rudd can declare a long-awaited first Grand Slam trophy.

Ruud, who additionally reached the ultimate of the year-end ATP Finals, appeared each excited and pragmatic when requested in November in regards to the upcoming season.

“It is all the time refreshing to begin a brand new 12 months down in Australia,” Ruud mentioned. “It is just like the mentality after all is you need to do effectively, however you realize that is just the start of a protracted 12 months … It is like the beginning of a marathon and you’re motivated for it.”

The American contenders

After a lot pleasure when Venus Williams acquired a wild card to play within the event, she was compelled to withdraw attributable to damage final week. However there stays a powerful contingent representing the pink, white and blue this 12 months, and several other of them have an opportunity to make runs deep into the second week. Listed here are a number of you may need to keep up all night time to look at:

Coco Gauff: The 18-year-old had a significant breakthrough in 2022 and reached the primary (of doubtless many) Grand Slam finals in Paris, in addition to the quarterfinals on the US Open. She ended the 12 months at No. 7, after reaching a career-high rating of No. 4 in October, and is trying extra assured than ever. Gauff made an announcement in her first event of the brand new 12 months by profitable the third singles title of her profession in Auckland. Her earlier greatest end in Melbourne is the fourth spherical, however anticipate that to vary this time round.

American Coco Gauff reached a career-high No. 4 in October of final 12 months. Mike Frey-USA TODAY Sports activities

Jessica Pegula: Coming off the very best season of her profession, the 28-year-old reached the quarters in Melbourne, Paris and New York and ended the 12 months with the No. 3 rating. Coming off a 1000-level title on the Guadalajara Open in October and a head-turning efficiency on the United Cup which noticed her get that victory over Swiatek, Pegula is a professional risk on the arduous courts. (And he or she and Gauff might simply contend for the doubles title as effectively: The pair reached the French Open remaining in 2022 and received three titles collectively final 12 months.)

Taylor Fritz: It has been a tricky stretch for the U.S. males, and it is now been 20 years since an American man has received a significant title (Andy Roddick, 2003 US Open). However after Fritz’s outstanding 2022 season, he is likely to be the very best hope to finish that drought. He received three titles final 12 months — together with at Indian Wells towards Nadal within the remaining — and reached his first main quarterfinal at Wimbledon, which he misplaced to Nadal in a fifth-set tiebreak. His win over Hubert Hurkacz within the United Cup semifinals carried the U.S. staff to the ultimate, and his victory towards Matteo Berrettini clinched the title for his nation. Fritz is aware of he can compete towards the very best, and he’ll have one more likelihood to just do that.

Frances Tiafoe: Can we simply indulge in Tiafoe’s unbelievable upset win over Nadal on the US Open fourth spherical another time? After his outstanding victory on Arthur Ashe, the 24-year-old went on to succeed in the primary main semifinal of his profession, the place he gave Alcaraz a relentless five-set battle. Tiafoe did not win in New York, however he has accomplished effectively in Melbourne previously — he made his first Grand Slam quarterfinal look on the event in 2019 — and has what it takes to go even additional in 2023. He was additionally one of the vital essential contributors for the U.S. staff within the United Cup and went 5-0 in singles play.

Danielle Collins: The sudden 2022 Australian Open finalist did not fairly capitalize on her early-season success the remainder of final 12 months, however she has a surprisingly sturdy Aussie fan base and can need to show her earlier consequence was no fluke.

Sebastian Korda: The son of 1998 champion Petr Korda, the youthful Korda has been poised for large issues since he received the junior title in Melbourne in 2018 after which reached the fourth spherical in simply his second main on the 2020 French Open. He is recent off a remaining look at Adelaide and reveals no indicators of slowing down.

Madison Keys: Again within the high 10 for the primary time since 2019, Keys recorded a 5-0 singles document within the United Cup. The 2-time Australian Open semifinalist appears to be rediscovering her greatest tennis simply in time for the 12 months’s first main.

As soon as believed to be the longer term centerpiece of girls’s tennis, and with the sponsorships and enterprise savvy to help that declare, Naomi Osaka is now two years faraway from her final Grand Slam title and will not be reversing that development in Melbourne. On Wednesday, Osaka, 25, joyfully introduced she is pregnant together with her first little one.

“I notice that life is so quick and I do not take any moments with no consideration, on a regular basis is a brand new blessing and journey,” Osaka wrote on social media. “I do know that I’ve a lot to look ahead to sooner or later, one factor I am trying ahead to is for my child to look at one in all my matches and inform somebody ‘That is my mother,’ haha.”

Osaka added she plans to be again on tour for the beginning of the 2024 season.

Along with her absence from the Australian Open this 12 months, there are solely two former champions within the ladies’s draw — Victoria Azarenka (2012, 2013) and Sofia Kenin (2020) — and they’ll play one another within the first spherical. Neither is a favourite to win the title this 12 months, though Azarenka, who confronted Osaka within the 2020 US Open remaining, is coming off a quarterfinal look in Adelaide and stays a powerful presence on tour.

Kenin has struggled mightily as of late and has handled a collection of accidents and stops-and-starts. She misplaced within the first spherical of each majors she performed in 2022 and is presently ranked No. 280. Three years after her main triumph, Kenin would have wanted a wild card for entry had she not used a protected rating. However Kenin is much from the one latest Grand Slam champion searching for a resurgence in Melbourne. US Open victors Bianca Andreescu (2019), Dominic Thiem (2020) and Emma Raducanu (2021) will all be doing the identical in Melbourne after difficult 2022 seasons. Thiem wanted a wild card for entry as a result of his rating on the finish of final season was simply exterior the cutoff for direct entry.

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!

Barty did what felt just like the inconceivable in 2022 together with her Australian Open victory — and her emotional response, and that of the group, summed up precisely what it meant to the nation.

So now that the drought has ended, and with it the entire speak and strain round it, will it’s simpler for Australian gamers to win their house Slam? There are actually a number of gamers who’ve proved over the previous 12 months they’re greater than able to dealing with the large moments.

Along with profitable the Australian Open doubles title in 2022 alongside fellow countryman Thanasi Kokkinakis, Kyrgios reached the primary main remaining of his profession at Wimbledon, and eventually lived as much as the hopes many had lengthy bestowed upon him. He additionally received his first singles title since 2019 on the Citi Open in August.

A crowd favourite who steadily performs his matches on John Cain Area, which is primarily a basketball venue, Kyrgios will undoubtedly be shouldering a lot of the nation’s consideration this 12 months, however it will not all be attributable to his expertise and polarizing on-court antics. Kyrgios is due again in court docket in February for an assault cost.

Doubtless extra below the radar than Kyrgios, Alex de Minaur, the second-highest-seeded Australian, additionally received a title in the course of the US Open hard-court collection in 2022 along with his second profession victory in Atlanta. He was the final Australian man standing in the course of the 2022 staging of the occasion with a fourth-round look, and began the 12 months with a win over Nadal within the United Cup.

Within the ladies’s draw, look no additional than Ajla “Chilly as ice” Tomljanovic to maybe have the very best likelihood to comply with Barty’s lead. The 29-year-old reached back-to-back quarterfinals at Wimbledon and the US Open final season, and, most famously, defeated Serena Williams in entrance of a shocked capability crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium within the final match of Williams’ profession. If she will be able to face up to that sort of psychological strain, who’s to say she will be able to’t win the Australian Open?

Do not take our phrase for it. Take Barty’s. When requested by the Australian Related Press in December if Tomljanovic might someday be a significant contender, Barty did not hesitate in her response.

“She already is,” Barty mentioned. “And that is the real feeling among the many gamers … It may possibly all the time be taken away in a short time from you as an athlete, however she’s had an unimaginable 12 months, completely, and I sincerely hope that she has an enormous Australian summer time so that everybody can have a good time together with her.

“She’s doing a hell of a job.”

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