Following an exhilarating start to the new season, which saw Canada win the ATP Cup title in Sydney and Rafael Nadal capture his 89th tour-level trophy in Melbourne, the world’s best players will now compete at the Australian Open.
ATPTour.com looks at 10 things to watch at the first major of the year.
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1) Rafa Returns: Nadal made a winning return to the Tour earlier this month when he captured his 89th tour-level crown at the Melbourne Summer Set, not dropping a set en route to the trophy. Now the Spaniard will compete at a major for the first time since he reached the semi-finals at Roland Garros (l. to Djokovic) last June. This will be his 17th appearance at the season’s first major..
The World No. 6, who won the Australian Open title in 2011, advanced to the quarter-finals in 2020 and 2021, but will look to go further this year as he chases a record-breaking 21st major title, starting against American Marcos Giron in the first round. The legendary lefty is currently tied with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer on 20 Slam triumphs.
2) Medvedev’s Mission: Second seed Daniil Medvedev cracked the Grand Slam code in September when he defeated Djokovic to clinch his first major at the US Open. With the taste of Slam success in the Russian’s mouth, the 25-year-old will be hungry for more in Melbourne, where he reached the final in 2021.
The World No. 2, who won ATP Cup matches against Alex de Minaur, Matteo Berrettini and Felix Auger-Aliassime at the start of the season, will play Swiss qualifier Henri Laaksonen in the first round.
3) Can Zverev Capture Maiden Major? Alexander Zverev enjoyed a strong second half to the 2021 season, earning a 32-4 record since Wimbledon. He captured the singles gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics, his fifth ATP Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati, the crown in Vienna and the trophy at the Nitto ATP Finals.
Despite winning 19 tour-level titles, the German has yet to triumph at a major, with his best run in Australia coming in 2020 when he reached the semi-finals. The third seed will be aiming to change that record over the next fortnight, starting against countryman Daniel Altmaier in the first round.
4) Tsitsipas’ Time? Like Zverev, Tsitsipas is also chasing a maiden major title at the Australian Open. The fourth seed has twice reached the semi-finals in Melbourne, with the first coming in 2019 when he upset Roger Federer en route to the last four aged just 20. The Greek then advanced to the same stage last year, falling to Medvedev.
The 23-year-old, who earned tour-level titles in Monte-Carlo and Lyon in 2021, will hope to set the wheels in motion for another deep run in Melbourne, starting against Swede Mikael Ymer in his opening match.
5) Italian Charge: Italian pair Berrettini and Jannik Sinner both enjoyed impressive 2021 seasons, winning six tour-level titles between them, with their strong form earning them spots at the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin (Sinner competed an alternate, replacing Berrettini due to injury). The last Italian man to win a major was Adriano Panatta at Roland Garros in 1976, but with confidence high, Berrettini and Sinner will be aiming to change that over the coming fortnight.
Seventh seed Berrettini reached the fourth round in Australia last year, but faces a tricky opening test against #NextGenATP Brandon Nakashima, who reached two tour-level finals last year. Sinner is seeded 11th and plays lucky loser Joao Sousa.
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6) Murray Back On Australian Soil: Former World No. 1 Andy Murray is a five-time finalist at the Australian Open, last reaching the championship match in 2016. The Scot has not competed at the first major of the season since 2019, when he lost to Roberto Bautista Agut in five sets in an emotional performance on Melbourne Arena.
Murray arrives in Melbourne in form, having advanced to the championship match at the Sydney Tennis Classic last week. It was the first time the 34-year-old had reached a tour-level final since October 2019 (Antwerp, d. Wawrinka). Murray will begin against 21st seed Nikoloz Basilashvili, whom he defeated in three sets in Sydney last week.
7) Home Hopes: There is a feel-good factor around Australian tennis. Adelaide-native Thanasi Kokkinakis soared to his maiden tour-level title at the Adelaide International on Saturday. The wild card had reached a career-high ATP Ranking of No. 69 as a 19-year-old in 2015, before injuries derailed his career. However, the Australian is now fully fit, in good form and will start his campaign against German qualifier Yannick Hanfmann.
Australia’s seeded player at the Australian Open is 32nd seed De Minaur. The 22-year-old, who advanced to the third round in 2021, earned impressive victories against Matteo Berrettini and Ugo Humbert at the ATP Cup earlier this month. The World No. 34 plays #NextGenATP Italian Lorenzo Musetti in the first round.
Former World No. 13 Nick Kyrgios will look to entertain the crowd again as he competes for the first time since September against British qualifier Liam Broady. The 26-year-old enjoyed a run to the last eight in Melbourne in 2015 and advanced to the fourth round in 2018 and 2020.
There are 10 Australians in the draw, with Alex Bolt, James Duckworth, John Millman, Christopher O’Connell, Alexei Popyrin, Jordan Thompson and Aleksandar Vukic also playing.
8) #NextGenATP Stars In Action: Carlos Alcaraz is one of the brightest talents emerging in the game right now, as evidenced by his victory at the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals in November. The Spaniard is seeded at a Slam for the first time (31st) and plays Chile qualifier Alejandro Tabilo in his opening match.
Eighteen-year-old Holger Rune, who made his main draw debut at a major at the US Open in September, will take on Nur-Sultan titlist Soonwoo Kwon, while Argentine Sebastian Baez, who won six ATP Challenger Tour titles last year, plays Albert Ramos-Vinolas.
Read More: The Fire Within Holger Rune
9) More Players To Watch: Russia’s Andrey Rublev is at a career-high No. 5 in the ATP Rankings and is a former quarter-finalist (2021) in Melbourne. The 24-year-old will begin his bid for a first major title against Italian Gianluca Mager. Casper Ruud had a standout 2021 campaign, winning five tour-level titles before he reached the semi-finals at the Nitto ATP Finals. The eighth seed plays Alex Molcan in the first round.
Auger-Aliassime and Hubert Hurkacz will also provide a threat in Melbourne. Auger-Aliassime helped guide Canada to ATP Cup glory earlier this month and will look to use his momentum at the first Grand Slam of the season, starting against Emil Ruusuvuori. Tenth seed Hurkacz faces Egor Gerasimov.
10) Mektic/Pavic Lead Doubles Field: Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic won nine tour-level titles as a team in 2021 and will look to add to their trophy haul in Melbourne as they headline the doubles field as the top seeds. The Croatians will face stiff competition from teams including last year’s finalists Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury, third seeds Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos and 2016 champions Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares.
Teams consisting of singles stars in the field include Kokkinakis and Kyrgios, Alcaraz and Pablo Carreno Busta and Lloyd Harris and Popyrin.