The 2023 tennis season begins where it always does, on the other side of the world in Australia. While it isn’t exactly the first tournament to be played this year, the 2023 Australian Open is the first pivotal event of the tennis calendar as the best players in the world will gather in Melbourne, Australia to compete in the first major.
This installment of the Aussie Open probably won’t have the same drama or controversy surrounding it like the 2022 version did, with the primary story being the absence of Novak Djokovic. At the time, Djokovic was the top-ranked player in the world and a three-time defending champion of the event, but his visa was cancelled multiple times by Australian government officials due to his lack of vaccination.
On the court last year, Ash Barty delighted her home fans as she captured the women’s singles title, defeating American Danielle Collins in the finals. She became the first Australian to win the title since Chris O’Neil in 1978, but it would turn out to be Barty’s last match as a professional with the 25-year-old announcing her retirement soon after. The men’s final delivered a classic, with Rafael Nadal earning the record 21st major of his career after coming back from two-sets-to-love down against Russia’s Daniil Medvedev.
Photo Credit: Garrett Ellwood/USTA
That brings us to the 2023 version of the event, for which the main draw begins on Sunday, January 15 and runs through Sunday, January 29. Djokovic has already been approved to travel to and play in Australia as he seeks his 10th title Down Under. It’s safe to say that Djokovic will be more motivated than ever this time around, harnessing the frustration of last year’s controversy as well as his desire to add a 22nd major to his resume. Mats Wilander of Eurosport, a seven-time major champion, considers Djokovic the favorite this year:
“I don’t think that we have ever seen a more hungry tennis player in terms of wanting to get revenge or wanting to win matches. I don’t think anyone has ever been hungrier than Novak is going to be,” he said. “When you play the way Novak plays, he doesn't have ups and downs. Everybody is not 100% ready in Australia. Some are very ready, some are not ready, and he is always somewhat ready. Somewhat ready for him means he's the favorite. The surface is perfect.”
The women’s side will feature a new champion with the aforementioned Barty being retired, and that sets up an exciting cast of potential winners. That cast begins with Iga Swiatek, the current world number one. She is a three-time major champion with the most recent of those three coming at the U.S. Open last summer, which proved that she is capable of winning hard-court majors. As a semifinalist in Melbourne last year, Swiatek will enter this year’s event as the tournament favorite.
Photo Credit: Andrew Ong/USTA
Two intriguing American women that could be due for deep runs as Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula each seek their first career major. Both are ranked inside the Top 10 and seemed to have hit their stride in 2022, which makes for higher expectations this year. Pegula has reached the quarterfinals in Australia each of the last two years, while Gauff is eager to avoid another early-round upset like she suffered last year. Gauff is a much more mature player than she was at this time last year, and is used to the pressure that accompanies all of her matches now, which sets her up nicely to make a deep run.
There is a chance that we will have a new champion on the men’s side this year. Nadal has had his share of injuries including needing abdominal surgery in the middle of 2022, and may not get out to the fastest start in the New Year. Stefanos Tsitsipas, who has reached three straight Aussie Open Semi Finals, along with last year’s runner-up Daniil Medvedev, are two strong contenders to win the title. Both Tsitsipas and Medvedev are dominant hard court players who thrive on the fast conditions in Australia, and will be the biggest threats to Djokovic’s quest for a 10th major there.
Be sure to pay attention to some of the Americans as well, notably Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe, who are motivated to snap the American male drought at majors. They have proven they can play well at majors, evidenced by Fritz’s run to the Wimbledon semifinals and Tiafoe’s semifinal showing at the U.S. Open, and both start the year inside the Top 20 of the ATP World Tour Rankings.
The New Year always brings with it a clean slate in the tennis world and a fresh season is upon us.