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Jannik Sinner, on top of the world Jannik Sinner, seul au monde

The first Grand Slam of the year is one of the toughest tournaments of the season. In the sweltering heat of Melbourne, players are making their return to top-level competition. In previous weeks, tournaments have little value. The Australian Open provides the first glimpse of the months to come. Unpredictable, this 2023 edition looks promising.

Top 5 on the lookout for victory

Carlos Alcaraz has withdrawn from the first Grand Slam of the year due to a leg injury. This absence jeopardizes his position as world number one. Eliminated in the third round by Matteo Berrettini in 2022 (2/6 6/7 6/4 6/2 6/7), he has few points to defend. On the other hand, he leaves the way clear for the other members of the top 5.

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The first seed is Rafael Nadal. Last year’s winner, his title defense will be complicated. In his last six matches, he has only recorded one win – against Casper Ruud at the ATP Finals (7/5 7/5). He has not inherited an easy draw. He will face the talented Jack Draper in the first round. A defeat so early in the competition would mean a loss of 2,000 points in the ATP rankings. A win in this tricky match would give the Manacor Bull a confidence boost for the rest of the tournament. With a few matches under his belt, Rafael Nadal is capable of anything – even the unthinkable.

The favorite is still Novak Djokovic. He starts this Australian Open in a dream position. He was banned from the tournament last year and has no points to defend. Thanks to his status as the fourth seed, he has inherited a favorable draw. No top 20 players are in his way until the quarterfinals. The Australian Open seems like the perfect opportunity to match Rafael Nadal’s record of 22 Grand Slam titles. Such a feat would give him back the first spot of the world rankings, which he lost at this time last year. Novak Djokovic’s last loss in Australia was in 2018.

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After a catastrophic 2022 season in Grand Slam tournaments, Stefanos Tsitsipas could take advantage of this fortnight to turn things around. Even if the young Greek is more expected on clay, especially at Roland Garros, he has had success in recent years in Melbourne: two semifinals. The current fourth player in the world started his 2023 season at the United Cup. By winning each of his four matches, he led Greece into the final four. His tough wins over Borna Coric (6/0 6/7 7/5) and Matteo Berrettini (4/6 7/6 6/4) should serve as a benchmark for him at this Australian Open. This tournament is another opportunity to win a first Grand Slam title. Such a victory would give him the number one spot in the world with 6,995 points, unless his opponent is Casper Ruud.

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The latter has had an exceptional 2022 Grand Slam season. The Australian Open is an opportunity to build on that momentum. His early loss to Laslo Djere in the round of 16 at the Auckland Open (6/3 3/6 6/7) is not ideal. Lacking confidence in the first round of a Grand Slam is not easy to handle. Nevertheless, Casper Ruud has no points to defend in this tournament, which eases his situation.

Players who could create a surprise

During a press conference, Nick Kyrgios declared that he would retire if he won a Grand Slam title. The Australian prodigy seems determined to realize this dream as soon as possible – why not as early as this January? Cheered on by the crowd at Melbourne Park, the current world No. 21 has a good chance. When he imposes daily discipline on himself, Nick Kyrgios is a dangerous player. He demonstrated this once again last season by reaching the Wimbledon final against Novak Djokovic (6/4 3/6 4/6 6/7).

In order to return to the highest level, Dominic Thiem used his protected ranking to join the main draw of the Australian Open. After a complicated return to the circuit in March 2022, the Austrian returned to the top 100 in October. This fortnight is an opportunity to gain precious places in the ATP rankings. If ‘Domi’ wants to get back to his former level, he has to qualify for the big events on the tour. This long-awaited progression begins on Tuesday, January 17. In the first round, he will face Andrey Rublev. This encounter is a big challenge for Dominic Thiem. Beating the current world No. 6 would be proof that he is on his way to regaining his level of tennis.

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The return of Alexander Zverev is also expected. After two defeats at the United Cup, the German does not start the Australian Open in the best conditions. He will face the qualified Juan Pablo Varillas in the first round. Winning a few matches would allow him to approach the season with more ease. While Sascha Zverev has fallen to 13th in the world, any points he can win will be useful. A six-month break from the circuit can be painless as long as the recovery goes smoothly. The Olympic winner can only hope to get back to his level of play as soon as possible.

The 2023 edition of the Australian Open, which takes place from January 16 to 29, should not go unnoticed. The questions are numerous and the hopes are high. Several players see this fortnight as an opportunity to win their first Grand Slam: Stefanos Tsitsipas, Matteo Berrettini, Casper Ruud or Felix Auger-Aliassime. Others are hoping to expand their prize list: Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev.

Marnie Abbou

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