IIn the advertising campaign that the ATP launched this month to welcome the new season, the governing body of men’s tennis underlined its determination to look to the future. As a host of talented young players took part in the campaign, poet James Massiah spoke of the dawn of a new era in a sport that has evolved.
But the ranking of the tour belies its narrative. There may be newer, fresher challengers, but the figure at the top of the sport and the man to beat remains the same as it has been for well over a decade.
After one of the most dominant seasons of his career, which brought him titles at the Australian Open, French Open, US Open and ATP Finals and ultimately the Grand Slam record of the Open era, Novak Djokovic is now ranked No. 1 in the rankings over 2,000 points. He returns to his favorite Grand Slam tournament and is once again the big favorite chasing his 25th major title.
Despite its dominance, there are still many potential pitfalls. The first week of the season reminded him that, at 36, his body is increasingly becoming a hindrance. At the United Cup last week, Djokovic battled a wrist complaint and lost to Alex de Minaur. Injuries have never stopped Djokovic from winning in Australia.
Djokovic’s closest competitors are now in a much better position than they were a year ago. The players between two and four are each responsible for Djokovic’s four away defeats last season; Although Carlos Alcaraz ended last season exhausted, his supernatural development continued as he won his second Grand Slam title in the most spectacular of circumstances against Djokovic at Wimbledon. Alcaraz will have to quickly find his feet in Australia after opting against a warm-up tournament, but his rapid growth is sure to continue.
After a slump in the second year of 2022 following his rise to number 1, Daniil Medvedev returned to his best last year, showing consistently high performances on hard courts and preparing for further Grand Slam success. Jannik Sinner, meanwhile, ended last season by living up to the hype by spectacularly defeating Djokovic on a triple match point in the Davis Cup and leading Italy to the title. Other players, notably Holger Rune and Alexander Zverev, may be able to play spoilsport, but it is Alcaraz, Medvedev and Sinner who should stare at Djokovic in the belief that they can stop him.
While the protagonist of the men’s game has remained unchanged for so long, the WTA presents itself with a different face at the beginning of the season. The disorder and inconsistency that characterized much of the late 2010s and early 2020s are long gone.
Iga Swiatek’s appearance changed the game. The Pole set the tone with her unique 2022 season and impressively, numerous players responded to the challenge she posed by stepping up last year. Aryna Sabalenka’s transformation was a dramatic development, and the Belarusian was neck-and-neck with Swiatek for the No. 1 ranking at the WTA Finals until the final week of the year. Behind her, Elena Rybakina secured her 2022 Wimbledon title, while Coco Gauff lived up to the overwhelming hype and pressure with victory at the US Open and fought through the second half of the season.
If the first week of the new season is anything to go by, none of the top four have lost momentum. Rybakina and Sabalenka met in the final in Brisbane, with the Kazakhstanian scoring a resounding 6-0, 6-3 win, while Gauff won in Auckland.
In the United Cup, however, Swiatek showed her skills by remaining unbeaten in her five singles matches. It was extremely entertaining to see her even make life difficult for her male opponents by hitting their second serves and keeping up with them from the baseline in the mixed doubles matches.
As with the men’s draw, Swiatek goes into the race as the favorite, even though she was given a difficult draw. The No. 1 seed begins against 2020 champion Sofia Kenin, with the winner facing either 2016 champion Angelique Kerber or 2022 finalist Danielle Collins. Along the way, she may have to face Jelena Ostapenko or Rybakina, two players who have an excellent record against her.
Beyond the order at the top of the game, however, the crucial theme of the women’s draw is the comebacks: Naomi Osaka and Kerber return from maternity leave, Emma Raducanu from injury and Elina Svitolina and Caroline Wozniacki continuing their stories from last year . Among them all, Osaka’s return to the top of the sport would be invaluable.
This year there is a change for the participants as the tournament is moving to a Sunday start. While organizers have said the move is an attempt to minimize late entries, an extra day of play on the weekend means an extra day of revenue for the tournament. Nevertheless, the Australian Open still offers significantly less prize money than the other Grand Slam tournaments.