At the Australian Open, Rafael Nadal defends not only the title he won in last year’s edition, but also the leadership of the list of Grand Slams winners. Novak Djokovic returns to his favorite tournament and looks at the possibility of matching the Spaniard in this particular.
The result of the draw for the 2023 edition of the Australian Open will have left half the world dreaming of a final between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, the two biggest names in world tennis still active and protagonists of a particular race for immortality in the modality, which the record holder of Grand Slam titles will achieve by acclamation.
The two players will only be able to meet in the final of the first “major” of the year, which Roger Federer coined as “Happy Slam”. Although the path seems winding, the possibility is real and, if confirmed, it would be the perfect moment to break even the number of ATP titles that both have won throughout their careers. Right now, there are 92 for each.
At the entrance to the tournament, which takes place between January 16 and 29 in Melbourne, Rafael Nadal leaves with the status of top seed, due to the absence of world number 1 Carlos Alcaraz, and will seek to defend the title won last year , in an epic final against the Russian Daniil Medvedev, by 3-2, after more than five hours of play.
The Spanish tennis player, who will have a demanding test with the British Jack Draper in the opening round, also leads the list of Grand Slam tournament winners, with 22 titles, one more than Novak Djokovic, on whom all attention falls in Melbourne.
A year after being deported by the Australian Government, for not being vaccinated against covid-19, the Serb returns to a country where he has not lost for 34 games to try to win the Australian Open for the tenth time.
Djokovic, who opens the tournament against the Spaniard Caraballes Baena, is looking to overcome a traumatic year, in which he was prevented from playing all the tournaments played on Australian and North American soil, including the “majors” organized in both countries.
Even so, he managed to win at Wimbledon and mitigated the difference to Nadal, who in 2022 won in Australia and, of course, at Roland Garros, having even removed Djokovic in the quarterfinals of the French tournament.
If Nadal and Djokovic command much of the attention, this is also due to the absence of world number 1 Carlos Alcaraz, considered by many to be the sport’s next superstar. The Spaniard, who won the last US Open aged just 19 and is the youngest-ever leader of the ATP rankings, is injured and a major casualty at the Australian Open.
Even so, the men’s squad has several important names, such as Casper Ruud, finalist at Roland Garros and at the US Open in 2022, Daniil Medvedev, defeated in last year’s final in Melbourne, or Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Then there is the talent of self-appointed candidate Nick Kyrgios, the service power of Matteo Berrettini, who will have Andy Murray as an opponent in the opening round, or the consistency of Cameron Norrie or Taylor Fritz, players who can surprise the favourites. The role to be played by the German Alexander Zverev, who has returned from a serious injury, remains to be seen.
The opening round of the competition also features an interesting duel between Andrey Rublev and Dominic Thiem, while the skilful Alexander Bublik will face Alejandro Davidovich-Fokina.
Portuguese with complicated draw
The Portuguese representation at the Australian Open will be in charge of Nuno Borges and João Sousa, in singles, with Francisco Cabral joining the Guimarães to play in the doubles tournament.
The draw was not friendly for Borges and Sousa, who will face accredited opponents in the first round of the competition. Nuno Borges, 112th in the ATP ranking, faces the talented Lorenzo Sonego, number 44 in the world (Monday, 3.30 am), while João Sousa (82nd) will face, on Tuesday, a consistent Roberto Bautista (26th), who faces the South Korean Kown, this Saturday, in the final of the ATP 250 tournament in Adelaide.
Swiatek at a higher level in women’s
On the women’s side, Iga Swiatek, 21 years old, starts as the main favorite to win the first “major” of the season. The Pole, who uncontestedly leads the WTA rankings, with more than double the points of second-ranked Ons Jabeur, had an incredible 2022, during which she won Roland Garros and the US Open, in addition to having played 37 games straight without losing, the best record in this millennium.
Swiatek’s ascension came after the unexpected abandonment of Australian Ash Barty at a time when she was leading the world ranking. The 25-year-old former tennis player is even the holder of the Australian Open title, the last of her career, having beaten, in the final of last year, the North American Danielle Collins, who had beaten Iga Swiatek in the semi-final of the tournament.
Despite the favoritism attributed to her, the Polish tennis player will have to perform at her best level to confirm her status. On the prowl are the talented Ons Jabeur or the 18-year-old prodigy Cori Gauff, whom Iga Swiatek beat in last year’s Roland Garros final.
They are joined by the Greek Maria Sakkari, the American Jessica Pegula, who scored a 6-2 double against Swiatek in the recent United Cup, or the Kazakh Elena Rybakina, winner of the last Wimbledon tournament, among others.
Out of this race will be the Japanese Naomi Osaka, former number 1 in the world, who will miss the entire 2023 calendar for being pregnant.
Tennis in the mouths of the world
This year, the Australian Open will break the record for the total amount of prize money, which stands at 48.3 million euros.
Contrary to what happened last year, the tournament is expected to run without constraints with regard to covid-19. Even if athletes test positive for the new coronavirus, they will not be removed from competition.
The Australian Open takes place in a phase of great media attention around the modality. Netflix premiered the documentary “Break Point”, which features several important names in the sport, such as Nick Kyrgios, Matteo Berrettini, Maria Sakkari or Ons Jabeur.
On the other hand, Kosmos, a company owned by former footballer Gerard Piqué, abandoned the Davis Cup reformulation project, which in 2023 will be organized exclusively by the International Tennis Federation (ITF), news with repercussions yet to be clarified, both in competition as well as in the sport itself.