Australian Open 2023: Preview
The context of this year’s Australian Open is one of the most fascinating in recent times (from a tennis perspective, at least), with an exciting draw and some compelling plot lines. I will admit, it doesn’t quite match the drama levels of last year and the saga surrounding the deportation of Novak Djokovic, but on this occasion, the tennis will most certainly be the main talking point. Let’s dive into a few:
The GOAT Debate
The discussion over who the greatest male tennis player of all time is will rage on years after Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have both retired, but the tapestry of this story is still being woven. Nadal sits on 22 Grand Slams, while Djokovic is just one behind on 21. Djokovic comes into this year’s tournament in imperious form, having won a warm-up tournament in Adelaide, while Nadal will start his Australian Open campaign off the back of the worst runs of form in his career, having lost 6 of his last 7 matches. On top of that, is Nadal’s brutal draw path, which we’ll get into later. All the signs seem to be pointing to Slam No. 22 for Djokovic. But there’s a twist. Serbian journalist Sasa Ozmo (a reliable source when it comes to Djokovic) reported this morning that Djokovic cancelled his practise session for this evening, following a hamstring issue. Besides, you disregard Rafa at your own peril. I certainly won’t be.
Oddly enough, Round 1 could be make or break for the Britons down under. 3-time Grand Slam champion and all round legend Andy Murray will be up against it as he faces Matteo Berrettini, who reached the semi-finals at last year’s Australian Open. Berrettini has won their 3 most recent encounters, with Murray’s sole victory coming over the Italian coming back in 2019. Berrettini looked strong in the United Cup and will be a handful for Murray, who has only played in exhibitions this year.
But if you thought Murray got a tough draw, spare a thought for Jack Draper. Draper was on the verge of being seeded for the Australian Open and only just missed out. His reward? A First-Round match against defending champion Rafael Nadal. However, this could be the making of Draper, who has slowly started to turn heads with his strong performances in the last year but is yet to have his breakthrough at a major. It is arguably the best time to play against Nadal and claiming a big scalp in the shape of the top seed would not only open up Draper’s draw massively, but would also put him on the map. Plus, there are very few tennis players who would turn their nose up at playing Nadal on the opening day of a Slam on the main show court.
Cameron Norrie is British Number One on the men’s side and has looked good so far this year, winning all but one of his eight matches so far this year, including wins over Rafael Nadal and Taylor Fritz. He faces Luca van Assche in his first match. On the women’s side, there is admittedly slightly less British interest. The Number One Ranked British player is Emma Raducanu, who sits at 75 in the WTA rankings. She has, of course, won a Slam before, but I’m inclined to write her off based on recent results, and an ankle issue which she picked up in Auckland. Watch out for Harriet Dart though, who looked good at the United Cup, competing well against top players, and could win a few matches. Unfortunately, Katie Swan, Heather Watson, and Katie Boulter all failed to qualify.
Wide Open Women’s Draw
This is very mich a recurring theme. Usually, there is no clear favourite at Slams on the women’s side, especially since the days of Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova have passed us by. Defending champion Ash Barty decided to retire from tennis last year at the age of just 25, and Simona Halep is currently serving a drugs ban, in a case which is still under investigation. This year is slightly different, as Iga Swiatek will go down as a clear favourite. However, Swiatek has not had a huge amount of success at the Australian Open before (relatively speaking) and faces a tough opponent in Jule Niemeier in the first round. Swiatek was also beaten at the United Cup by the ever-consistent Jessica Pegula, who is certainly in the conversation this year along with Caroline Garcia, who could beat anyone on her day. Ons Jabeur is always a dangerous opponent and had an excellent 2022, while Coco Gauff regularly performs well on quick hard courts. There are, of course, other players who have a great chance of making a deep run, but there are simply too many to name!