The new tennis season is set to begin on Thursday after a short winter break, when the Australian Open begins.
Former World No 1 Novak Djokovic will return to the tournament after missing the opening Grand Slam of the 2022 season after being deported from Australia over fears he would incite anti-vax sentiment.
The Serbian is now favorite for The Open ahead of its return and there’s plenty to look forward to – here’s what to look out for as it all kicks off in Australia…
Novak Djokovic (pictured) will return to the Australian Open at the start of the new tennis season
New year, same champion?
Hidden in the men’s year-end rankings are some telling numbers: Rafael Nadal finished as world No 2 but played just 12 tournaments, and Novak Djokovic finished fifth with just 11 events played. This is as many as 11 fewer than their main rivals.
For the latter it tells a part of the story about a traumatic year, which saw the Serb deported from Australia and banned from the United States.
When it comes to winning percentage, Djokovic tops the leaderboard with 83.3 percent. Given his insatiable appetite, and the possibility that he is likely to make a successful start to the year at the Australian Open where he is almost unbeatable, he is the man to beat even at the age of 35. No one can be surprised if the first three Slams go to Djokovic-Nadal-Djokovic.
The biggest challenge may come from US Open champion Carlos Alcaraz, who looks like a generational talent. But it’s not unusual for a player to take time to put together their first Grand Slam win, and with a new kind of pressure this could be an even more trying season.
Former World No 1 Djokovic finished fifth with just 11 events played last season
Women need to recover
It’s been a terrible year for the women’s game. A season that culminated in standalone women’s events – the WTA Finals and Billie Jean King Cup – played in front of crowds that were spotty at best told the story of its current low point in the cycle.
There is one outstanding player – Iga Swiatek – but rivalries are lacking. Serena Williams and Ash Barty are out, Simona Halep is on a doping ban and Naomi Osaka appears to be a reluctant participant on the tour.
The coming season will test tennis’ ability to rebuild itself, but all hope is not lost. The best thing that can happen is that a new wave of talent begins to establish itself. Coco Gauff and Ons Jabeur are welcome to continue their development, and there remains exciting potential in Emma Raducanu, Leylah Fernandez and Zheng Qinwen.
Sometimes the WTA and their players seem to be unaware that women’s football, for example, is on the rise and they should act accordingly.
Women’s tennis needs to bounce back this year with Iga Swiatek – an outstanding player
A potential raise for Emma
Fairly or not, so much of the spotlight and interest has fallen on Emma Raducanu over the ever-intriguing question of whether she can build on her impressive US Open success in 2021.
Widely unrealistic expectations, repeated injuries and the go-for-break policy he opted for in commercial deals dampened the flow of goodwill after his Flushing Meadows title.
Raducanu will be glad to see the back of what will always be a difficult year, but there may be fewer excuses in 2023.
There are reasons for optimism. He has had a chance to get his body more ready for the tour, and a more stable set-up seems to be building around him. The highly-rated coach’s signing of 30-year-old German Sebastian Sachs, who will hopefully last longer than previous incumbents, is a step in the right direction.
Expectations still need to be tempered and Raducanu is only 20 years old. A return to the top 30 in the world should be out of reach.
Emma Raducanu is looking to build on her impressive 2021 US Open success
Wimbledon and politics
The All England Club will not look back fondly on 2022, which saw the flagship Grand Slam stripped of ranking points.
Not only that, their historic expansion plans at nearby Wimbledon Park remained mired in controversy and local opposition, and behind the scenes there was turmoil and the departure of senior executives. A new chairman – the odds favor businessman Kevin Havelock – has a lot to contend with.
The question of banning Russians and Belarusians was not resolved, with the tours in an uncompromising mood and the Government reluctant to take the issue out of SW19’s hands.
Despite this, the Wimbledon brand remains one of the strongest in any sport, strong enough to withstand turmoil. If only the club could have helped themselves by engaging more intelligently with the outside world it sometimes seems detached.
Wimbledon will not look back fondly on 2022, as they were stripped of ranking points
It is to Jack Draper’s advantage that, for now, he has traveled the slipstream of attention given to Emma Raducanu.
That could change this year if he continues the progress that has seen him zoom from 265 at the start of 2022 to No 42. Staying injury free will be key but the possibilities for him are exciting.
Britain has four men in the top 50 and that could be five if Kyle Edmund regains his fitness after a spate of knee troubles. Cam Norrie and Dan Evans can look forward to more consistent success and Andy Murray will have to rediscover the art of executing on big points.
Katie Boulter, Katie Swan, Jodie Burrage and veteran Heather Watson should all be looking to join Raducanu and Harriet Dart in the women’s top 100.
Much is expected of the Brits, including World No 42 Jack Draper