The 10 Biggest Storylines To Follow At The 2023 Australian Open - Men's Health Magazine Australia

The 10 Biggest Storylines To Follow At The 2023 Australian Open

The 2023 Australian Open is just days away and looks set to be one of the best editions of the tournament for years. These are the biggest storylines that will be the talk of the tournament.

There’s something about the Australian Open that makes it a quintessential feature of an Aussie summer. As the scorching January days roll on, hype for the year’s first grand slam reaches boiling point and we find ourselves glued to the tv engrossed by our tennis heroes once again. The Australian Open is one of the biggest yearly sporting events to hit Australian shores and the whole world will be watching the best of the best battle it out in Melbourne from next week.

The 111th edition of the Australian Open will begin on Monday January 16th.  With a handful of contenders and a slew of dark horses, the winner of the Grand Slam is anyone’s guess. The old guard will return to maintain its place at the top, while the next generation will be keen to unseat them. Will we see Novak Djokovic make a triumphant return down under to claim his tenth Australian Open crown? Will Nick Kyrgios prove all his doubters wrong? Or will we see an entirely new grand slam champion? Only time will tell.

To get you ready for the non-stop action of the next fortnight, here are the biggest storylines that every fan with their finger on the pulse of the Australian Open needs to be following.

Can Nadal Go Back-To-Back?

Rafael Nadal turned back the clock and shocked the world when he came back from two sets down in the final of last year’s Australian Open to claim his first grand slam title since 2020. It was only Nadal’s second Australian Open victory and first since 2009, propelling the 36-year-old back from the brink of retirement and towards the top of the ATP rankings.

Nadal backed up his Australian Open win with a victory at the French Open, leaving fans in awe of his ability to defy father time with performances reminiscent of his younger self. Following a dismal second half of the 2022 season and an uninspiring lead up period, there are doubts as to whether Nadal has another deep run in him. A tough draw won’t make Nadal’s title defence any easier, with rising British star Jack Draper awaiting him in the first round. One thing is certain, after last years final, no one will be counting Nadal out until the final point.

Medvedev’s Redemption

It’s fair to say that former world number one Daniil Medvedev did not have the best year in 2022. Medvedev entered last year’s Australian Open as the odds-on favourite to take out the title following a victory at the US Open which saw him skyrocket up the ATP rankings. With a two set lead in the final, Medvedev crumbled and was eventually defeated by Rafael Nadal in a thrilling five set comeback. Medvedev’s Australian Open campaign saw him climb to the top of the ATP rankings, but his reign at the top would prove to be tumultuous.

Shortly after gaining the ATP top spot, a string of injuries and poor performances left his regency in tatters. Medvedev’s year got even worse when Russian players were banned from Wimbledon, meaning the world number one was unable to compete. Medvedev would only win two titles in 2022 before losing his number one ranking and finished the year by going winless at the ATP Tour Finals.

The 2023 Australian Open presents a path of redemption for Medvedev. Last year, it was the tournament that catapulted him to the top of the tennis world, even though he ultimately fell short of the title. Medvedev has an opportunity to redeem himself in Melbourne, with a solid chance of taking out the trophy.

The Return Of The King

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Novak Djokovic’s vaccination status and subsequent deportation was the biggest story of last year’s Australian Open. Many believe he would have won the grand slam had he been allowed to play, but it wasn’t to be. Now Djokovic is back and is the heavy favourite to capture a record 10th Australian Open title.

After last years vaccination debacle, Novak went on to win at Wimbledon and took out the ATP Tour Finals in November. He’s been in terrific form as of late and it will take a masterful performance to upset the Serbian. Which is bad news for Australian fans, as both Alex De Minaur and Nick Kyrgios lay in the path of Djokovic and are destined to meet him in the quarterfinals or earlier, should they advance that far.

Bad For The Sport?

There isn’t a more polarising figure in tennis than Nick Kyrgios. The 27-year-old has split fans opinions since his breakthrough onto the ATP tour back in 2014 and not much has changed. Following the most successful year of his career, which included reaching the final at Wimbledon and a grand slam doubles victory, Kyrgios has a genuine chance of winning the Australian open and proving his doubters wrong. But the path there certainly won’t be without controversy.

Fresh off splashing the cash by purchasing the South-East Melbourne Phoenix basketball team, Kyrgios has geared up for some last minute Australian Open preparation in the form of an exhibition match against Novak Djokovic. Tickets to the match, despite it not being worth competition points or prize money, sold out in less than an hour. Leading Kyrgios to take shots at his critics on social media, tweeting “Wow Nick Kyrgios is bad for the sport! How dare he sell out another stadium.”

A grand slam victory, especially one on home turf, would silence many of Kyrgios’ detractors and fulfil the heavy expectations thrust upon him from a young age. Even if he falls short of the title, the Kyrgios show is sure to be blockbuster entertainment.

The Next Generation

The big three of tennis (Djokovic, Nadal and Federer) have had a stranglehold on grand slams for the last two decades. With Federer already retired and Nadal and Djokovic aging, their grasp is finally weakening. The inevitable fall of the old guard will usher in the next generation of top talents who will become the faces of the sport. There has been a first time grand slam winner in each of the last three years, meaning its likely we’ll see another one this year. Only four different players have won the Australian Open since 2006, we’re well overdue for some new blood.

Stefanos Tsitsipas has been knocking on the door for the last few years. The 24-year-old has reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open three times and is primed for another deep run. Meanwhile, Norwegian Casper Ruud reached two grand slam finals last year but lost both, that has to be great motivation fuel. Young guns Felix Auger-Aliassime and Holger Rune are both in great form and have landed top ten seeds. This year’s tournament has a longer list of potential winners than we’ve seen in a long time.

Murray’s Comeback

Ironman Andy Murray is back again after a lengthy rehabilitation period to recover from two hip surgeries. Murray’s return to the top 50 of the ATP rankings is nothing short of extraordinary, but the 35-year-old has since failed to make a deep run at a grand slam. Murray believes he’s in the best shape of his career since his comeback, but with a tough first round matchup against 13th seed Matteo Berrettini, he’s going to be pushed to the limit.

The Special K’s Defend Their Title

Perhaps the biggest surprise of last year’s Open was the unbelievable run of the ever-enigmatic Special K’s: Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis. The pair pulled off upset after upset on their way to claiming the doubles title, despite only participating in the doubles tournament after receiving a wildcard entry.

The Special K’s rowdy outings and unrivalled showmanship was a major highlight of the 2022 Open. Although the pair have admitted that doubles will take a backseat this year, instead they will be prioritising the singles tournament. Regardless of their commitment, the seventh seeded doubles pairing has a chance to defend their title in Melbourne and it’s guaranteed to be edge of your seat viewing.

Aussie Breakthrough’s

Every year a handful of Australian hopefuls are gifted wildcard entries into the Australian Open. The tournament is a chance to establish themselves on the world stage and get a rankings boost in the process. More often than not, these players and other low-ranking qualifiers make some serious noise. Just last year, wildcard Chris O’Connell knocked out 13th seed Diego Schwartzman as part of a thrilling run. This year, there are plenty of potential breakout candidates.

Jason Kubler is a former junior world number one, but injuries have prevented him from progressing to his full potential. Kubler has never made it past the first round of the Australian Open, but after a recent run of good form, he has a good shot of doing so. Wimbledon doubles champion max Purcell, also known as the man with the best mullet in tennis, is making his second appearance in the Open’s main draw after three wins in qualifying. 21-year-old Rinky Hijikata made headlines when he took the first set off Nadal at last year’s US Open and is making his main draw debut at the Australian Open.

Fan Behaviour

Aussie fans have developed something of a reputation for what some would call passion and what others would call rowdiness. The latter was on full display last year when matches were regularly disrupted by cacophonous chants of the Portuguese world ‘Sui’, a mimicry of Cristiano Ronaldo’s famous celebration.

While tennis is traditionally known as a ‘gentlemen’s sport’, hyperactive crowds have become a regular occurrence. And in no place more strongly than in Australia. Hate it or love it, Aussie fans are going to get in on the action and will play an instrumental role in controlling the momentum of matches.

The COVID Factor

Covid politics were front and centre at last year’s event. With the prevention of world number one Djokovic from playing casting a shadow over the tournament. This year, the ghost of the pandemic has returned to rear its ugly head again with continued drama after event organisers announced that Covid positive players would be allowed to compete in Melbourne.

Whether or not this policy will be inconsequential or disastrous remains to be seen, but it definitely adds another layer of flavour to what will already be a drama-filled fortnight.

By Cayle Reid

Cayle Reid is a fan of everything sports and fitness. He spends his free time at the gym, on his surfboard or staying up late watching sports in incompatible time zones.

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