MONDAY marks the start of Australia’s most prestigious tennis tournament, with the Australian Open kicking off at Melbourne Park. The first round contains 128 players – including 32 qualifiers – 64 of whom will take to the courts on the opening day. We take a look at the Australian Open men’s singles field, and how the event might pan out.
Last year’s Australian Open final was one of the all-time greats, with Spaniard Rafael Nadal coming from two sets down to win in five against Daniil Medvedev. Few thought Nadal – who had contemplated retirement during 2021 – would be able to play again let alone win another Grand Slam, but he proved everyone wrong. In an epic conclusion to the tournament, Nadal won 2-6 6-7 6-4 6-4 7-5 in the second longest Grand Slam final in history, lasting five hours and 24 minutes.
Coming into 2023, Nadal has assumed the top seed given the withdrawal of young compatriot Carlos Alcaraz, having fallen just short of a complete revival and finishing world number one last year. The Spanish top seed does not have an easy draw though, with British rising talent Jack Draper up first, followed by either of the American young guns, Brandon Nakashima or Mackenzie McDonald. In-form American Frances Tiafoe looms as a potential fourth round match, with a repeat of last year’s final there in the quarters with now seventh seed Medvedev awaiting.
Medvedev would have extra fire in the belly for 2023 given the circumstances of the 2022 final and having been so close to his second Grand Slam title, and first Australian Open trophy. He takes on American Marcos Giron in the opening round, followed by either Australian wildcard John Millman, or 55th ranked Swiss hope Marc-Andrea Huesler. His first seeded opponent is set to be Sebastian Korda who almost snatched the lead-up Adelaide International title. Either Pole Hubert Hurkacz and Canadian Denis Shapovalov are set for the Round of 16, prior to a meeting with Nadal in the quarter finals.
Unsurprisingly, nine-time winner Novak Djokovic is favourite heading into the 2023 edition, returning Down Under for the first time since 2021. After missing last year’s tournament due to his deportation over his vaccination status, Djokovic is back and ready to load up for his 10th Australian Open title. He comes in with good form having won the ATP 250 event in Adelaide, and though his hamstring has been giving him issues, expect the Serbian to push through it.
Djokovic faces Spaniard Roberto Carballes Baena in the opening round, before either Bolivian Hugo Dellien or French qualifier Enzo Couacaud in the second. Bulgarian and 2017 Australian Open semi-finalist Grigor Dimitrov – or even 2021 Australian Open semi-finalist Aslan Karatsev – are a third round opponent, followed by Pablo Carreno Busta or local hope Alex de Minaur in the third round. It does not get any easier with fifth seed Russian Andrey Rublev, ninth seed Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune or Wimbledon finalist Nick Kyrgios all potential quarter finals opponents. Two in-form players in Casper Ruud and Taylor Fritz could be waiting in the semi-final.
NO LONGER ON THE FRITZ?
One of the big improvers of the last 12 months is American Taylor Fritz, who is right in contention for the Australian Open crown. Off the back of a strong United Cup showing, and then keeping match fit during Kooyong, the eighth seed showed his potential at last year’s ATP Finals. Sneaking into eighth spot thanks to Alcaraz’s withdrawal, it handed him an easier run. The unpredictable Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili is first up, with Australian wildcard Alexei Popyrin – who he beat at Kooyong – likely there in the second round. Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic in the third round should not give him too many troubles, but German Alexander Zverev in the fourth could be tricky. Fritz smashed Zverev in the United Cup, but the 12th seed was severely underdone having not played in six months, so he is a big unknown.
Could it finally be Nick’s time? The Australian firebrand is seeded 19th here at Melbourne Park, and after a Wimbledon final and a good showing across 2022, Kyrgios is in the form of his life. Injury in the lead-up to the event has cast some doubts over his potential performance, but he is one of the few that could beat anyone on his day. He takes on Russian Roman Safiullin in the opening round, with Frenchmen at either ends of their respective careers in Richard Gasquet – coming off a title in Adelaide – and Ugo Humbert there in the second round. Ninth seed Rune or American rising star Maxime Cressy will be waiting in the Round of 16, before a likely clash with Rublev in the fourth round. From there, a Wimbledon final rematch with Djokovic would be on the cards in the final eight.
NO-WAY TO YES-WAY FOR NORRIE
The Australian Open is deploying new balls this year, and from player reports, it will favour flat hitters because the pressure releases after the first couple of shots in a rally. This opens the door for players that are perhaps more focused on that flat hitting than spin, and it puts Brit Cameron Norrie in that bracket. He has a winnable first few rounds, taking on French wildcard Luca Van Assche first up, before either another Frenchman in Constant Lestienne, or Brazilian Thiago Monteiro in the Round of 64. From there, 21st seed Borna Coric makes it a little trickier, while Canadian sixth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime looms as a fourth round opponent. Though talented, both he, and potential quarter finals match-up Stefanos Tsitsipas can be inconsistent, with the Brit maintaining a strong level in each and every match.
Incredibly the player taking on the number one seed is one who has caught plenty of attention the last six months, and if he can get past Nadal, then watch out. When Brit Jack Draper drew Nadal, many people were disappointed given the Spaniard is not a first-up match-up you want when working into a Grand Slam. Though unlikely to get past him, Nadal’s form has been a little iffy to start the year, while Draper has shown some promising signs in Adelaide. He will follow the same path as Nadal if he wins, but as one could imagine, if he beats Nadal, anything is possible. He would likely be favourite in most following matches up until Medvedev in the quarter finals, and from there it would go to a whole new level again.
Winner: Taylor Fritz (USA)
Runner-up: Daniil Medvedev (RUS)