The Australian Open, the first tennis major of the season, kicks off on Thursday. With the expected return of Rafael Nadal (No. 451 Spaniard) sidelined by injury, all eyes will be on Novak Djokovic (No. 1 Serbia) to defend his crown, as has been the trend in recent years, or for a new champion to emerge.
The veteran Djokovic, 37, is still going strong after winning three of the four majors last season, all but Wimbledon. His seventh career title at the ATP Tour Finals, the last event of the year, cemented his status as the greatest tennis player of all time.
With 24 major singles titles, Djokovic shares the women’s singles record with Margaret Court (AUS-retired) for most major singles titles. Djokovic is hoping to extend her record for most singles titles beyond the court. The Australian Open, in particular, is his home tournament, having won it 10 times, including two in a row.
However, Djokovic has some concerns about his fitness. On March 3, Djokovic lost 0-2 (4-6 4-6) to No. 12 Alex Diminor (AUS) in the first round of the United Cup quarterfinals in Perth, Australia. Djokovic appeared to be bothered by discomfort in his right wrist, receiving treatment twice during the first set. Djokovic said after the match, “I have enough time to heal before the Australian Open. I don’t want to be 100 percent for the start of the season,” Djokovic said after the match, but local reports suggest that this is not a simple injury.
The field is so strong that even if Djokovic is in top form, he won’t have an easy time winning the title. Among them, Carlos Alcaraz (No. 2-Spain) and Holger Lune (No. 8-Denmark), who were both born in 2003, are the most threatening.
Alcaraz, who made history by becoming the first teenager to reach the No. 1 ranking when he won his first major at the 2022 US Open, met Djokovic in the quarterfinals of last year’s French Open, losing 1-3 after suffering muscle spasms during the match. However, he went on to reach the final at Wimbledon, where he defeated Djokovic in straight sets to win his fifth consecutive Wimbledon title, marking his ascension as the “next emperor.” However, he was unable to add another title in any of the tournaments he played in after Wimbledon, ending the season with Djokovic again atop the rankings. Alcaraz has been working hard during the off-season, including training with Jannik Cinnere (No. 4-Italy), and is hoping to return to the top of the rankings at the Australian Open, where he missed last year due to injury.
Rune heads into the Australian Open with an ‘all-star’ coaching staff. After hiring former Djokovic coach Boris Becker as his coach last October, the Swiss has recently added Severin Luthi, best known for coaching tennis emperor Roger Federer (Switzerland-retired), to his staff.
Both Alcaraz and Thiem are 2-3 against Djokovic, with Thiem winning at least one set in all three of their matches against him.
Also competing in the tournament will be South Korean tennis sensation Kwon Soon-woo (ranked 206th). Kwon, who struggled with injuries and poor form last year, is ranked 80th in the Protected Rankings for injured players.