It is perhaps chilly and even snowing the place you reside, nevertheless it’s summertime within the Southern Hemisphere and meaning only one factor: It is time to prepare for lengthy nights and overcaffeinated mornings as a result of the 2024 Australian Open is upon us.
And there is a lot to be enthusiastic about for the yr’s first main.
Following a momentous 2023 season, which noticed the continued dominance of some and the emergence of others, and a just about nonexistent offseason, tennis’ greatest gamers are Down Below and able to battle for the title. Whereas Rafael Nadal withdrew this month due to a muscle tear in his hip that minimize brief his comeback in Brisbane, the boys’s and ladies’s fields stay chock stuffed with stars and storylines.
Will Novak Djokovic efficiently defend his title and additional safe his spot within the document books? Can Coco Gauff make a run for her second profession main? How will Naomi Osaka, Angelique Kerber and the opposite returning gamers do of their first Slam again following prolonged layoffs? Here is all the pieces you’ll want to know heading into the 2024 Australian Open.
Djokovic’s drive for 25 (and past)
Djokovic made historical past on the US Open in September when he tied Margaret Courtroom’s longstanding document for many main titles of all time with 24. And someway he is nowhere close to completed.
Nor, for that matter, is he shy about his ambitions.
The 36-year-old, who gained three main titles in 2023, instructed reporters on the ATP Finals — yup, he gained that too — that he was eyeing the elusive “Golden Slam” in 2024. Steffi Graf is the one participant in historical past to have ever achieved successful all 4 main titles and Olympic gold in the identical yr. However Djokovic got here shut in 2021, and if anybody can do it, it is him, proper?
After all, that feat begins in Melbourne, the place he is the reigning champion, a 10-time victor and the oddsmakers’ clear favourite to win once more. However he enters the yr’s first main after his 43-match win streak in Australia was snapped earlier this month by Alex de Minaur within the United Cup, and he talked about wrist ache after the match. He mentioned he thought it might be “effective” by the beginning of the event and he is been seen training on Rod Laver Enviornment this week displaying no apparent indicators of discomfort.
Djokovic will face a qualifier within the first spherical, with potential showdowns with Andy Murray or Gael Monfils within the third spherical, and a attainable rematch towards his US Open semifinal opponent Ben Shelton within the fourth. Jannik Sinner, who defeated him in one among their two matches on the 2023 ATP Finals, is a possible semifinal opponent. However with Carlos Alcaraz and Daniil Medvedev on the other facet of the draw, Djokovic stays the person to beat.
The Coco Period
After successful her first main title on the US Open in September, Gauff seems to be to cement simply how good she is on the exhausting courtroom, irrespective of the continent. And to this point, her 2024 season has proved that.
The 19-year-old American, who’s at present ranked No. 4, opened the season along with her second straight title in Auckland, New Zealand. Within the ultimate towards Elina Svitolina, she got here again after dropping the primary set in a tiebreak for a formidable 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-3 victory. Gauff instructed reporters the come-from-behind win was precisely what she wanted main into the Australian Open.
“It provides me lots of confidence,” Gauff mentioned. “It was cool to see how I used to be capable of react underneath stress, particularly after dropping the primary set after I was up. So I am pleased with the psychological battle I confirmed right this moment. There are issues I can enhance on however general I am pleased with the extent I performed this week, taking part in 5 matches.”
Gauff has twice reached the Spherical of 16 on the Australian Open, together with in 2023. However now, brimming with self-belief and crowd assist wherever she goes, Gauff will attempt to comply with up her maiden main triumph with one other trophy for her rising assortment — and has by no means regarded extra able to win on the event.
The comeback children
Whereas Nadal won’t be competing, there nonetheless is a formidable listing of gamers making their main return after a prolonged absence.
Former Australian Open champions and world No. 1s Osaka and Kerber, who’ve gained a mixed seven main singles titles, are each getting back from maternity go away and will likely be taking part in at their first Slam since 2022. Osaka, the 2019 and 2021 winner in Melbourne, made her season debut in Brisbane this month and reached the second spherical earlier than dropping a hard-fought thriller towards Karolina Pliskova 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4. She is going to face 2022 US Open semifinalist and No. 16 seed Caroline Garcia within the first spherical.
Osaka’s coach Wim Fissette instructed ESPN final month that that they had few expectations for her journey Down Below, however he wasn’t ruling something out both.
“We’re practical and we do not know what to anticipate at this second however Naomi is particular,” Fissette mentioned. “You at all times have to think about her as a possible winner.”
Kerber, the 2016 Australian Open champion, formally launched her comeback on the year-opening United Cup, the place she gained two of her 5 singles matches throughout Germany’s title-winning run and appeared at occasions to be in classic kind.
POINT OF THE TOURNAMENT 🤯🤯🤯
— United Cup (@UnitedCupTennis) January 6, 2024
Additionally returning in Melbourne is 2021 US Open champion Emma Raducanu, who was sidelined for greater than eight months after present process surgical procedures on her wrists and ankle. The 21-year-old reached the second spherical in Auckland earlier this month, the place she misplaced to Svitolina 6-7 (5), 7-6 (3), 6-1. At the moment ranked No. 299 and utilizing her protected rating of 103, she narrowly prevented needing to come back by way of qualifying attributable to participant withdrawals, and can face American Shelby Rogers in her opening-round match.
Amanda Anisimova, 22, additionally started her comeback this month after taking an prolonged break from the game attributable to burnout and her psychological well being. She final performed in Could and resumed coaching in September. The previous French Open semifinalist additionally reached the second spherical in Auckland and can get her Melbourne marketing campaign underway towards No. 13 seed Liudmila Samsonova.
Marin Cilic, the 2014 US Open champion and 2018 Australian Open finalist, can be again after a proper knee damage stored him out of competitors for nearly the entire 2023 season. He made his return in Hong Kong this month and misplaced in a third-set tiebreak to Jan-Lennard Struff in his opening match however gained an exhibition match over Murray earlier this week. He’ll tackle Fabian Marozsan within the first spherical.
American (purple, white and) blues
We do not imply to alarm anybody, or make anybody really feel outdated, however the American males’s streak and not using a main title will likely be legally sufficiently old to drink this yr. That is proper, later this yr it should have been 21 years since Andy Roddick gained the US Open in 2002. And, as we have now for each Grand Slam event since, we have now to ask: Can anybody snap the drought?
Properly, buddies, Djokovic and others will make it powerful, however there are a number of American males who’ve what it takes — maybe extra now than there have been prior to now decade-plus.
World No. 16 Shelton, who was lower than 1 yr outdated when Roddick hoisted the trophy in New York, had a breakthrough 2023 season by which he reached the quarterfinals on the Australian Open, the semifinals on the US Open and gained his first ATP title in Tokyo in October. The 21-year-old misplaced within the first spherical in Brisbane, however will likely be taking part in within the semifinals at Auckland on Friday. He’ll look to construct on his main success much more in 2024.
Taylor Fritz, who’s the top-ranked U.S. man at No. 12, gained two titles in 2023 and reached the quarters on the US Open to match his best-ever main end result. Tommy Paul, ranked No. 14, was a 2023 semifinalist in Melbourne, reached two ATP finals and recorded a win over Alcaraz on the Canadian Open. Frances Tiafoe, the present world No. 17, reached the Australian Open quarterfinals in 2019, in addition to the US Open semis in 2022, and gained two tournaments in 2023. And naturally, somebody like Chris Eubanks, ranked No. 34, may at all times have a shock run like he had at Wimbledon final yr.
Can any of those males representing the U-S-of-A do it in Melbourne? Keep tuned.
Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!
Ashleigh Barty made historical past in 2022 when she turned the primary Australian to win the house Slam in 44 years. Her victory celebration will eternally stay rent-free within the minds of tennis followers. Barty has since retired, however there are different Australian gamers who hope to affix her and win the event on residence soil.
Maybe nobody has a greater likelihood of doing that than de Minaur. Through the United Cup, de Minaur defeated three top-10 opponents — Fritz, Djokovic and Alexander Zverev — in a five-day span. His reward? Cracking the highest 10 himself for the primary time.
When instructed of his accomplishment on courtroom after defeating Zverev, he referred to as it a “milestone,” however he hinted he had greater objectives for himself within the rapid future.
“The job’s not completed,” de Minaur mentioned. “We preserve bettering, we preserve working. It is going to be a enjoyable Aussie summer season.”
The 24-year-old reached the fourth spherical on the Australian Open in 2022 and 2023 and together with his newfound confidence and the overwhelming assist of the house crowd, he may go even additional this time round. No Australian man has gained since Mark Edmondson in 1976.
Different Australians to keep watch over all through the fortnight embrace three-time main quarterfinalist (and the lady who actually ended Serena Williams’ profession) Ajla Tomljanovic, two-time Australian Open fourth-rounder Daria Saville, the defending doubles champions Rinky Hijikata and Jason Kubler, and 2022 doubles winner Thanasi Kokkinakis and his new associate Alexei Popyrin. Kokkinakis’ 2022 associate Nick Kyrgios, maybe the best-known Australian participant on tour, stays sidelined with a wrist damage. He performed in only one match in 2023.
The remainder of the contenders
Along with these talked about beforehand, there are a selection of gamers who can contend for Australian Open glory. Listed below are the remaining favorites:
Iga Swiatek: You may by no means rely out the four-time main champion and present world No. 1. The reigning French Open winner, Swiatek’s greatest end result on the Australian Open was a semifinal look in 2022. However she’s coming off of a WTA Finals victory to finish the 2023 season, and a powerful displaying with Workforce Poland on the United Cup, and this is perhaps Swiatek’s greatest likelihood to this point to say the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup.
Aryna Sabalenka: The defending champion and world No. 2 — who ever-so-briefly held the highest rating in 2023 — reached the ultimate in Brisbane to begin the yr and recorded spectacular wins over Victoria Azarenka and Daria Kasatkina, amongst others. She is going to undoubtedly be trying to show her 2023 victory was no fluke and that she’s able to defending her title.
Elena Rybakina: The 2023 Australian Open runner-up bought her revenge over Sabalenka within the Brisbane ultimate with a dominant 6-0, 6-3 victory. The present world No. 3 did not drop a set on the occasion and seems poised for an additional deep run in Melbourne.
Jessica Pegula: The American and world No. 5 went 1-1 in singles play on the United Cup to begin the yr and will likely be taking part in within the semifinals in Adelaide on Friday. She’s a six-time main quarterfinalist, together with the final three years on the Australian Open, and can absolutely do all the pieces she will to lastly take her profession one step — or extra — additional this yr.
Ons Jabeur: The three-time main finalist has come oh-so-close to main glory over the previous two years and has change into an increasing number of of a fan favourite consequently. Whereas she’s but to play in 2024, and has by no means superior previous the quarters on the event, Jabeur referred to as successful a significant “a lacking piece” and doubtlessly her “life’s mission” in a current documentary about her life. Count on her to present all the pieces she’s bought to make it occur.
Elina Svitolina: The 29-year-old reached the quarterfinals on the French Open in June — her first main after maternity go away — and adopted it by reaching the semifinals at Wimbledon. She opened the season with an Auckland ultimate look and appears to be again to her earlier kind — if not even higher than earlier than. Ranked No. 1344 in April, she’s now No. 23, and rising.
Carlos Alcaraz: It is exhausting to think about the reigning Wimbledon champion as under-the-radar, however he is perhaps simply that. He did not play in any lead-in occasions this yr, and hasn’t gained one other main title following his Wimbledon success final summer season. It is unclear precisely what to anticipate from him. Alcaraz, 20, missed the Australian Open in 2023 due to damage and reached the third spherical in his lone earlier look. Regardless of all this, he is proved simply how good he’s and stays very a lot one to look at.
Daniil Medvedev: The 2-time Australian Open finalist and world No. 3 additionally selected to skip any warmup occasions and hasn’t performed a aggressive match for the reason that ATP Finals in November. He’ll look to redeem himself in entrance of the Aussie crowd after a disappointing third-round end in 2023.
Jannik Sinner: Whereas the world No. 4 additionally has but to play in 2024, maybe nobody had a stronger end to the 2023 season. Sinner gained the titles on the China Open and the Vienna Open — beating Medvedev in each finals — and reached the ultimate on the ATP Finals, recording wins over Djokovic, Medvedev, Holger Rune and Stefanos Tsitsipas throughout the occasion.
Andrey Rublev: The 26-year-old arrives in Melbourne ranked a career-high No. 5, and gained the title in Hong Kong to open the yr. Like Pegula, he is no stranger to main quarterfinals — he has reached that spherical 9 occasions — and can look to make the Australian Open the place the place he can get previous the hump and advance to his first main semifinals.
Grigor Dimitrov: The 32-year-old gained his first title since 2017 this month at Brisbane. A sentimental (and Williams’ sisters) favourite, Dimitrov reached the semifinals in Melbourne in — await it — 2017, so would possibly this be the yr he does it once more? “I am very drained,” he instructed the gang in Brisbane. “I am going to take some days off however nonetheless I am very glad to be in Australia. I am going to carry on going and, yeah, onto the subsequent one.”
Bonus day of tennis
In an effort to cut back the variety of late-night matches, the WTA and ATP collectively introduced new guidelines that will likely be carried out at tour-level occasions, beginning this month. However such guidelines do not apply to main occasions, so the Australian Open nonetheless will nearly positively have matches performed within the wee hours of the morning, because the event has change into recognized for over time. Simply ask Leyton Hewitt and Marcos Baghdatis, who performed till 4:34 a.m. within the third spherical in 2008, or Murray and Kokkinakis, who battled previous 4 a.m. within the second spherical final yr.
That mentioned, the event is attempting to keep away from such late ending occasions by beginning play a day earlier this yr. As a substitute of starting on its conventional Monday date, the primary draw will get underway on Sunday with the primary spherical lasting three days as an alternative of two. The French Open was the primary to change to such a schedule in 2020.
Whereas the Australian Open organizers mentioned the transfer is to “reduce late finishes,” ESPN analyst John McEnroe referred to as the choice a “pure cash seize” in a call with reporters this week.
“They simply discovered one other solution to make some cash,” McEnroe mentioned. “I do not agree with it.”