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The Australian Open - Review

This is part one of two, focusing on the men's draw.


The famed Australian Open is the first of four tennis Grand Slams held annually on the hard courts of the famed Melbourne Park. Commonly referred to as “the happy slam”, the tournament boasts the highest attendance of the four Grand Slams - in 2023, the tournament attracted over 902,000 spectators.


The tournament was left slightly vulnerable following the retirement of tennis icons Serena Williams and Roger Federer in 2022. But, the first major appearance of German Alexander Zverev following his return from a career-threatening injury, and the return of tennis legend Novak Djokovic – the ‘King of Melbourne Park’ – a year after he was deported from the country enthralled tennis fans.


However, the highly anticipated event suffered a rocky start with men’s world number one, teenage phenom Carlos Alcaraz, withdrawing beforehand with a leg injury. Nick Kyrgios, Australia’s entertainer and Men’s Doubles Champion in 2022, was also unable to play due to a knee injury.


The 2023 Australian Open was a thrilling tournament. The event marked the first Australian Open in the Open Era where neither of the top two seeds [1] from the men or women’s draw featured in the quarter-finals. However, the major was not short on star power - third, fourth and fifth seeds Stefanos Tsitsipas, Novak Djokovic and Andrey Rublev featured in the last eight of the men’s tournament. While it wasn’t an underdog showcase like the 2022 US Open, it certainly introduced new talent to the tennis stage, with rising American talents Sebastian Korda and Ben Shelton enjoying the run of a lifetime.


Overall, this Australian Open was a gorgeous combination of new and old talents, underdogs and legends - all packed with controversy and drama. It was a thrilling edition of the prestigious tournament with many spectacular matches to enjoy.


Shock Upsets


By the end of the Third Round, otherwise known as the Round of 32, four of the top ten seeds had been knocked out of the tournament, as well as the former number one Andy Murray (now unseeded) being knocked out after a stunning run.


Spanish icon Rafael Nadal – tournament favourite and first seed - suffered a shock defeat at the hands of unseeded American Mackenzie McDonald. It was potentially a signal of the twilight of the star’s career.


Second seeded Norwegian Casper Ruud and American No.1 Taylor Fritz were both knocked out early: Fritz by the up-and-coming Australian Alexei Popyrin and Ruud to another unseeded American.


Former World No.1 and 2022 finalist Daniil Medvedev looked to be in incredible form with decisive victories in the first two rounds – but he was ultimately defeated in straight sets.

Finally, former world number one Andy Murray returned with impressive stamina, spending over ten hours on court through just two matches. His Round 2 victory over home hope Thanasi Kokkinakis earned massive support, though he was knocked out in the following round.

Champion


Nine-time champion Novak Djokovic’s return was bathed with controversy following his dramatic deportation saga prior to the 2022 tournament. Though previously popular at Melbourne Park, Djokovic’s 2023 run was filled with hecklers at almost every stage of the competition: claims of cheating, faking injuries, and favouritism. Plus, his father was noticeably absent from the final stages of the tournament after featuring in a supposedly pro-Putin video. Alongside media struggles, the Serbian superstar played through a hamstring injury that looked tournament-threatening in his Second-Round match against the unseeded Enzo Couacaud – he was the only player to win a set over Djokovic in the entire tournament. Whether you support his personal beliefs or not, there is no denying his dominance in tennis.


The champion fought to the finish, defeating familiar foe Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final to capture a record-extending 10th Australian Open title, regain his World No.1 ranking and equal Rafael Nadal’s record of 22 Grand Slam titles. His victory marked a historic event - something Novak was clearly aware of in an elated display of emotion following his triumph 15 years after his first Grand Slam win.


Also, his victory added further nuance to the ‘GOAT’ debate. He led his competitor – Rafael Nadal - in the number of ATP Finals titles, Wimbledon championships, weeks spent at World No.1 and one upped him in the head-to-head record. But, Djokovic’s ‘GOAT’-ness was hindered largely by his lacking Grand Slam record until now.


Although, as Rafael Nadal appears to be approaching the end of his hard-court career, we have yet to see how he fares on his favourite surface in the European clay court season, which will commence around April this year.


On the other hand, Djokovic - a player rarely managing a victory over the dominant Nadal on clay - is not quite near his twilight years with his exquisite performance to begin the season. Though his season remains blurry, largely due to travel restrictions on unvaccinated visitors into the US, there is no doubt that the World No.1 will provide many enthralling matches this year.


Up-and-Coming Players to Watch in 2023


The Australian Open, being the first Grand Slam of the year, provides insight to players whose seasons will fare better than others. This year’s multitude of upsets may signal a complete revolution in the Top 10 players at the end of the season.


American Sebastian Korda, son of 1998 champion Petr Korda, seemed to be in incredible form throughout the tournament, rising from the twenty-ninth seed to one of the tournament favourites in a matter of days. The American lasted to the quarter-final, before being defeated by Russian Karen Khachanov. However, his aggressive play and impressive shot-making suggest he has a fantastic season ahead.


Young American newcomer Ben Shelton also displayed potential for success, reaching the quarter final before losing to fellow American Tommy Paul. His performance in the tournament was impressive albeit aided by a relatively easier run than other players. It was nonetheless a fantastic demonstration of skill and stamina that will aid him greatly this season. Shelton and Korda, alongside established stars Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe, are projected to place the USA back on the map in tennis. Despite superstars Andre Agassi, John McEnroe and Pete Sampras dominating the 90s, American tennis has taken a hit since then with European players controlling the top 20 spots.


Another rising star is Czech player, Jiri Lehecka. Despite his defeat - also in the quarter-final - the Czech played some stunning tennis, dispatching 21st seed Borna Coric, 11th seed Cameron Norrie and sixth seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime on his way to the quarter-final.

Relatively new but already impressive 19-year-old World No.9, Holger Rune also has an exciting season to look forward to. Despite losing to Russian Andrey Rublev, the talented young Dane seems to have carried the incredible form that allowed him to Djokovic in 2022 forward. With his previously volatile temper now seemingly under control, he will have far more opportunities to display his multitude of talent.

[1] Seed - in tennis, top players are ‘seeded’ so they will not meet in the early rounds of the tournament. The system is designed so that the top two seeds will not compete until the final. Seeds are determined by the ATP/WTA rankings at the start of the tournament.


[2] Tournament structure - the four Grand Slams all follow a ‘knockout’ structure. This means that should a player lose a single match, they will be eliminated from the tournament. The Grand Slams feature seven rounds, beginning with the First Round, or the Round of 128 (as there are 128 players in the draw). Half of these players will be eliminated within the first two days of competition, in the First Round.


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