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 he was unable to compete in the opening Grand Slam of the season in 2022 after he was deported from Australia over fears he would incite anti-vax sentiment.
The Serbian is now the favourite for The Open ahead of its return and there is plenty more to expect – here’s what to look out for as it all kicks off again in Australia…
Novak Djokovic (pictured) will return to the Australian Open as the new tennis season begins
New year, same champions?
Hidden in the men’s year-end rankings were a couple of telling figures: Rafael Nadal finished as world No 2 but played only 12 tournaments, and Novak Djokovic finished fifth with just 11 events played. This is as much as 11 fewer than their main rivals.
For the latter it tells a fraction of the story about a traumatic year, which saw the Serb deported from Australia and barred from the United States.
When it comes to win percentage, Djokovic topped the leaderboard with 83.3 per cent. Given his relentless appetite, and the likelihood he will likely make a victorious start to the year at the Australian Open where he hardly ever loses, he is the man to beat even at 35. Nobody could be shocked if the first three Slams go Djokovic-Nadal-Djokovic.
The biggest challenge may come from US Open champion Carlos Alcaraz, who looks a generational talent. But it is not unusual for a player to take time to consolidate their first Grand Slam win, and with a new type of pressure this could be a more testing season.
The former World No 1 Djokovic finished fifth with just 11 events played during last season
Women need to bounce back
This was an awful year for the women’s game. A season which ended with standalone women’s events – the WTA Finals and Billie Jean King Cup – played before 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 in short supply. Serena Williams and Ash Barty are gone, Simona Halep is on a doping ban and Naomi Osaka appears a reluctant participant on the tour.
The coming season will test tennis’ ability to regenerate itself, but all hope is not lost. The best thing that could happen is that a new wave of talent starts to establish itself. Coco Gauff and Ons Jabeur continuing their progress would be welcome, and there remains exciting potential in Emma Raducanu, Leylah Fernandez and Zheng Qinwen.
Sometimes the WTA and their players seem blissfully unaware that women’s football, for instance, is hugely on the rise and that they must act accordingly.
Women’s tennis needs to bounce back this year with Iga Swiatek – the one outstanding player
A potential upturn for Emma
Fairly or not, much spotlight and interest falls on Emma Raducanu with the constantly intriguing question of whether she can build on her astonishing US Open triumph of 2021.
Widely unrealistic expectations, repeated injuries and the go-for-broke policy she has opted for with commercial deals have dissipated the surge of goodwill after her Flushing Meadows title.
Raducanu will be pleased to see the back of what was always going to be a difficult year, but there can be fewer excuses in 2023.
There are reasons for optimism. She has had a chance to get her body more prepared for the tour, and a more stable set-up looks to be forming around her. The signing of a highly-rated coach in 30-year-old German Sebastian Sachs, who hopefully will last longer than previous incumbents, is a step in the right direction.
Expectations still need to be tempered and Raducanu has only just turned 20. There will not be a flurry of titles, but it is fair to expect signs of steady progression. A return to the world’s top 30 should not be out of reach.
Emma Raducanu will be looking to build on her astonishing 2021 US Open triumph
Wimbledon and politics
The All England Club will not look back with fondness on 2022, which saw the flagship Grand Slam stripped of ranking points.
Not only that, their historic expansion plans into neighbouring Wimbledon Park remained mired in controversy and local opposition, and behind the scenes there was unrest and departures of senior executives. A new chairman – the odds favour businessman Kevin Havelock – has plenty to contend with.
The question around the banning of Russians and Belarusians is unresolved, 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 the turbulence. If only the club had helped themselves by engaging more smartly with an outside world it sometimes appears detached from.
Wimbledon will not look back with fondness on 2022, as they were stripped of ranking points
It is to Jack Draper’s advantage that, so far, he has travelled in the slipstream of the attention accorded to Emma Raducanu.
That may change this year if he continues the progress which saw 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 become five if Kyle Edmund restores his fitness after so many knee struggles. Cam Norrie and Dan Evans can look forward to more solid achievement and Andy Murray needs to rediscover the art of executing on the 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.
There is plenty of expectation on the Brits, including World No 42 Jack Draper