Emma Raducanu’s core team is taking shape as the British number one hopes to cement a long-term coaching partnership.
Emma Raducanu’s core team is taking shape as the British number one hopes to cement a long-term coaching partnership.
Following a thrilling start to the 2023 season, which saw Team United States win the inaugural United Cup, the world’s best players will now descend on Melbourne for the Australian Open.
ATPTour.com looks at 10 things to watch ahead of the first Grand Slam of the year.
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1) Reigning Champion Nadal: One year ago, Rafael Nadal captured his second Australian Open title when he rallied from two-sets-to-love down to defeat Daniil Medvedev in an epic final. The top-seeded Spaniard returns to Melbourne this week aiming to clinch a record-extending 23rd Grand Slam crown.
Having started the season with defeats against Great Britain’s Cameron Norrie and Australian Alex de Minaur at the United Cup, the World No. 2 will be aiming to earn his first victory of the season when he plays #NextGenATP Briton Jack Draper in a tough opening encounter.
2) Djokovic Imperious In Australia: Novak Djokovic has not lost on Australian soil since 2018, when he fell against Hyeon Chung in the fourth round at the first major of the year. The Serbian is chasing a record-extending 10th Australian Open title and record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam and arrives at the event in strong form, having lifted his 92nd tour-level title at an ATP 250 in Adelaide last week. The fourth seed, who is in the opposite half of the draw to Nadal, opens against Spaniard Roberto Carballes Baena.
3) Battle For World No. 1: Djokovic, Casper Ruud and Stefanos Tsitsipas all start their campaigns knowing they will become the new No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings by lifting the trophy in Melbourne. World No. 3 Ruud can also claim top spot by reaching the final, as long as neither Djokovic nor Tsitsipas wins the title. If none of those scenarios play out, the reign of current World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz, not playing in Melbourne due to injury, will remain.
Ruud, who reached Grand Slam finals at Roland Garros and the US Open last year, reached the fourth round in Melbourne in 2021. Tsitsipas is a three-time semi-finalist at the major, holding a 15-5 record.
4) Can Medvedev Go One Step Further? Daniil Medvedev will be hoping it is third time lucky when he takes to court in Melbourne. The 26-year-old has produced his best at the major in recent years, falling in the final against Djokovic in 2021 and Nadal in 2022. Having reached the semi-finals in Adelaide last week, Medvedev will be aiming to build on that run at the Australian Open and clinch his second Grand Slam crown. The 2021 US Open titlist plays American Marcos Giron in the first round.
5) Fritz & Norrie In Form: Taylor Fritz and Cameron Norrie arrive in Melbourne in red-hot form. The eighth seed Fritz holds a 4-1 record on the season, having guided Team United States to the United Cup title in Sydney. The 11th seed Norrie, who defeated Fritz at the United Cup, is 6-1 in 2023, having reached the final in Auckland.
Although neither has advanced past the fourth round in Melbourne, confidence will be high that they can enjoy deep runs over the next fortnight. Fritz plays Nikoloz Basilashvili in the first round and Norrie takes on #NextGenATP Frenchman Luca Van Assche.
6) Kyrgios Leads Home Hopes: The 19th seed Nick Kyrgios enjoyed an impressive 2022, reaching his first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon and winning a tour-level crown in Washington. The 27-year-old’s best result in nine previous main draw appearances at the Australian Open came in 2015, when he reached the quarter-finals. He will be aiming to better that run this year, starting against Roman Safiullin. There are 11 Australian men in the draw, with Alex de Minaur, the 22nd seed, in the same half as Kyrgios.
7) Top 10 Threats: Andrey Rublev, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Hubert Hurkacz will all aim to win their maiden Grand Slam titles at the Australian Open this week. The fifth seed Rublev reached the quarter-finals in 2021 but has a tough opening assignment against 2020 finalist Dominic Thiem. The sixth seed Auger-Aliassime enjoyed a career-best season last year, winning four tour-level trophies. He will aim to make a fast start in 2023 when he plays countryman Vasek Pospisil.
The 10th seed Hurkacz, who earned two wins at the United Cup for Team Poland, has never been beyond the second round in four previous appearances in Melbourne. The 25-year-old starts against Pedro Martinez.
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8) First-Round Popcorn Clashes: Fans will be treated to a host of blockbuster first-round matches at Melbourne Park, with Matteo Berrettini’s clash against former World No. 1 Andy Murray a highlight. The five-time finalist Murray will be aiming to earn Grand Slam revenge against the 13th-seeded Italian, having lost against Berrettini at the US Open in September.
Rublev will take a 4-2 ATP Heaed2Head series lead into his first-round clash against Thiem, while Nadal will need to be at his best if he is to overcome British lefty Draper on Rod Laver Arena. Home favourite Thanasi Kokkinakis will try to extend his perfect 2-0 record in his matchup against Fabio Fognini.
The 2022 Next Gen ATP Finals runner-up Jiri Lehecka will look to build on his victory against the returning Alexander Zverev at the United Cup when he takes on 21st seed Borna Coric.
9) #NextGenATP Stars In Action: Holger Rune is one of the brightest emerging talents in the game, evidenced by his title run at the Rolex Paris Masters in November. The 19-year-old is the ninth seed and plays Filip Krajinovic in his opening match.
The 17th-seeded Italian Lorenzo Musetti, who won two tour-level titles last season, plays Lloyd Harris, while 17-year-old Chinese qualifier Juncheng Shang will meet German Oscar Otte. American Ben Shelton burst onto Tour when he reached the third round in Cincinnati last season. The 20-year-old meets Zhizhen Zhang in his opening match.
10) Koolhof/Skupski Lead Doubles Field: Wesley Koolhof and Neal Skupski won seven tour-level titles as a team in 2022 and will look to add to their trophy haul when they lead the doubles field as the top seeds.
The Dutch-British tandem will face stiff competition from 2020 champions Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury, third seeds Marcelo Arevalo and Jean-Julien Rojer and fourth seeds Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic.
Thanasi Kokkinakis and Nick Kyrgios soared to the title in 2022, enjoying a fairytale run on home soil. The Australians will team again this year in Melbourne.
It was a historic 2022 for Chinese men’s tennis, and the country’s stars are showing no signs of slowing down. When Shang Juncheng qualified for the Australian Open on Friday, the 17-year-old ensured more national history would be made.
Shang, Wu Yibing and Zhang Zhizhen are the first male Chinese trio to compete in a Grand Slam men’s singles draw in the Open Era (since 1968) and the first in all of Australian Open history (since 1905).
“Those two are inspirations for me. They’re like older brothers and I think they’re doing really well for Chinese men’s tennis,” Shang told ATPTour.com. “They’ve inspired me a lot and they’ve been on the Tour longer than me, so it’s always good experience practising with them, talking to them, and I wish them all the best for this upcoming Australian Open.”
In September 2021, Shang had yet to earn a Pepperstone ATP Ranking point. Now the Chinese star is inside the world’s Top 200. ‘Jerry’ is the youngest Grand Slam men’s qualifier since 17-year-old Carlos Alcaraz at the 2021 Australian Open.
“I’m super excited to be here and I don’t think it’s a surprise for me. It’s obviously not in the calendar that I’ll be playing the main draw of the Australian Open when I’m 17 years old,” said Shang, who is being coached by Dante Bottini, the former coach of Kei Nishikori and Grigor Dimitrov. “I’m just very excited for this opportunity to be able to play qualifying and have the chance to qualify. I’m very excited for what’s coming next.”
Shang Juncheng and his team at practice in Melbourne. Photo Credit: Dante Bottini
The teen, who claimed his first ATP Challenger Tour title last year, is happy with his accomplishment, but eager to continue his climb.
“For me right now everything is about learning. I’m just trying to enjoy every moment on the court,” Shang said. “Every point is an opportunity for me to improve, so I just hope I can try my best and do my best to win.”
While Shang successfully qualified for a major on his first attempt, Wu and Zhang both competed in last year’s US Open main draw. Wu is happy to see his countrymen in the field.
“I think they also have their chances. Little Jerry had a very good round in qualies here in Australia and hopefully he can keep going and show the world how Chinese young men are,” Wu said. “And for Zhizhen, we have known each other for a long time and he’s got his weapons, but his opponent is not an easy one… it’s going to be a great match and hopefully these guys can enjoy playing here.”
Zhang, who last year became the first Chinese man to crack the world’s Top 100, will play in the Australian Open main draw for the first time and try to secure his maiden victory at a Grand Slam.
“I wish I can win the first round and try to break my Grand Slam first win and also wish the other two good luck,” he said.
– Juncheng Shang vs. Oscar Otte
– Zhang Zhizhen vs. Ben Shelton
– Wu Yibing vs. Corentin Moutet
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When the Australian Open draw was made, several matches stood out. Matteo Berrettini is playing Andy Murray in the first round and Andrey Rublev is facing Dominic Thiem.
But perhaps the biggest opportunity belongs to Jack Draper, the 21-year-old Briton who will try to upset top seed and defending champion Rafael Nadal.
“It’ll be amazing to play on court with him, he’s a great champion,” Draper said. “[There are] a lot of emotions obviously when I think of playing him.”
Nadal is still very much the present, but it is clear Draper is part of the future. Already with two Top 10 wins on his resume and an appearance at the 2022 Next Gen ATP Finals, the lefty is on the rise. The World No. 40 is not allowing his early success to get to his mind, though.
“Tennis is such a small bubble and it’s easy to get wrapped up in the winning and losing and the pressures and the challenges on a daily basis. It’s not easy sometimes,” Draper said. “I’m learning how to enjoy it a little bit more, and I think when mentally I start to learn how to enjoy the challenges, that’s when it will become really fulfilling for me.
“I’ve only been on Tour for six months. I’m still learning all the time, every day, about things, and how I can be better and more consistent at this level, mentally and physically, tennis-wise.”
What has allowed Draper to keep that perspective? The Briton believes it has to do with humbling injuries he has dealt with early in his career, including an ankle injury he suffered in 2021.
“I think being injured a lot when I was younger, I think that gives you a lot of perspective on things. I spent a lot of time just at home, sitting there, wanting to be on court and it was always difficult knowing that I could progress when I wasn’t, I was just injured,” Draper said. “So I think that was one, just getting those experiences at a younger age.”
In 2020, Covid-19 affected all players on the Tour, suspending six months of play. In 2021, Draper demonstrated signs of his potential with two wins at Queen’s Club and a good showing at Wimbledon, where he won a set against Novak Djokovic. But the injury bug derailed his progress.
“There was a consistent theme of injuries, but I think the one that really got to me was after I played Novak at Wimbledon two years ago,” Draper said. “I was on a bit of a high, I’d just played Queen’s and done well there, and I was on the clay, and I ruptured ligaments in my ankle, so I had to spend time off the court, and I think that was one I was like, ‘Right, I need to just not focus about rankings or anything, I just need to focus on trying to stay injury-free, keeping healthy and being about the process’, which is where I’m at now and I think that’s why last year I had the season I had.”
What has helped keep Draper centered is the team around him, including coach James Trotman and his brother, former college tennis player Ben Draper. According to Trotman, his charge is “competitive to the core”, which made those difficult moments even tougher.
“Through the Covid year and through injuries and various things Jack hadn’t competed much. There was a pedigree in there. He made the final of junior Wimbledon,” Trotman said. “But if you’re injured and you’re not able to compete and you’re not able to play, it makes it difficult to actually see where your level’s going to be.”
That is what made 2022 such an important year for Draper. The lefty began the season outside the Top 250 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, but cracked the Top 50 by September.
“Sometimes I forget that last year even happened, because it seems like I had a good year and then you’ve got to do it all over again, you’ve got to go again, and that’s a real challenge in itself,” Draper said. “I’ve only been on Tour for six months, I’m still learning at this level, I’m still trying to improve, playing against guys who maybe [can] take me out on their day, like [Karen] Khachanov last week. All these lessons and experiences are great for me to become the player and the person that I want to become.”
As much attention as Draper is getting, he is still a 21-year-old with a normal life off the court. He enjoys spending time with his friends while home and likes card games.
“Usually I lose, I’ve got a good habit of losing, I think. If that’s the other skill I’ve got, it’s being terrible at cards,” he admitted.
Draper even plays pranks on those close to him. If someone on the Briton’s team gets in the elevator with him, odds are he will try to send them to the wrong floor.
“I have a lot of good friends. I have friends from school, when I was seven years old, who I keep in touch with at home, and also, I have friends in tennis. It’s a bit different, because maybe the friends outside of tennis don’t know anything about it, they don’t care, whatever,” Draper said.
“Then I’ve got friends obviously inside tennis who are going through the same journey as I am, so they understand the path of a tennis player and we can relate on that basis as well. So, I’ve got good mates.”
As many eyes are on him in the tennis world, a weekly result does not mean as much to his friends back home.
“They don’t care at all. They don’t know the scoreline. They’ve come to Wimbledon a couple of times, and they don’t know what’s going on,” Draper said. “They’ve just seen me playing players they’ve seen all the time on the news and the TV, and they think, ‘Wow, that’s so cool’, but they’re just at [university] living normally. So that is, I think, a good balance to have.”
It is safe to say those friends will be tuning in to Draper’s first-round match at Melbourne Park against Nadal, who said of the 21-year-old “I know he’s playing well. He has a lot of positive things, and probably a great career in front.”
Draper will hope to fast-track that inside Rod Laver Arena.
“Whatever happens, it’ll be a special occasion for me, still very young in my career, so it’s great to have these sort of experiences and exposure to playing someone like Rafa on a big court like that,” Draper said. “But I want to play really well and I want to compete hard and do the best I can.”
Soonwoo Kwon polished off a stirring tale of second-chance success on Saturday at the Adelaide International 2, where the South Korean held off Roberto Bautista Agut in an absorbing championship match to triumph at the ATP 250 event.
The South Korean edged the fourth-seeded Bautista Agut 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(4) in a two-hour, 43-minute epic to lift his second ATP Tour title. Only playing in the main draw as a lucky loser after losing in the final round of qualifying, he took out Tomas Machac, Pablo Carreno Busta, Mikael Ymer, Jack Draper and Bautista Agut with a series of big-hitting displays this week in South Australia.
“Since being beaten in [qualifying], I told myself I’ve got nothing to lose, and then I came all the way to the finals,” said Kwon after his victory. “And why not? I put every energy into it, and that worked.”
Kwon made a fast start to his maiden ATP Head2Head clash with Bautista Agut, breaking the Spaniard in the opening game of the match with more of the free-flowing groundstrokes that had defined his run to the final. Some solid serving ensured he faced no break points for the rest of a set that he clinched in confident fashion to the delight of his vocal supporters in the stands.
Bautista Agut returned the favour in the second set, however, sealing an early break of his own en route to forcing a decider. A high-quality deciding-set featured a series of exhilarating all-court exchanges, with two breaks of serve apiece leading to a decisive tie-break with little to choose between the two players.
It was Kwon who found something extra in the closing stages, however, as his fearsome forehand allowed him to take control of rallies at crucial moments. He reeled off four points in a row from 3/4 to claim victory in a highly entertaining championship match having struck 42 winners to Bautista Agut’s 23.
“It was a really tough match today,” said Kwon. “I don’t know, I’m just really happy to win today. It’s crazy.”
The 25-year-old Kwon is the first South Korean to win multiple ATP Tour titles, following his maiden triumph in Astana in 2021. After becoming the first lucky loser to lift a tour-level trophy since Marco Cecchinato in Budapest in 2018, Kwon rises 32 spots to No. 52 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings.
Top seed Rafael Nadal says rising British star Jack Draper is “one of the toughest opponents possible” to start against in the Australian Open.
British men’s number one Cameron Norrie is close to tears after losing the final of the Auckland Open to France’s Richard Gasquet.
Novak Djokovic is the leading favourite at this year’s Australian Open. The Serbian is not shying away from the pressure of standing at the doorstep of history, either.
If Djokovic claims his 10th title at Melbourne Park, he will tie Rafael Nadal for the most men’s Grand Slam singles titles in history with 22. Is that a motivating factor?
“Of course, it is. I mean, that’s why I keep on playing professional tennis, competition tennis, because I want to be the best, I want to win the biggest tournaments in the world. There is no secret about it,” Djokovic said. “It doesn’t get bigger than this. You have four Slams that historically have been the biggest events in our sport. It’s also one of the biggest reasons why I was really looking forward to come back to Australia: because of my record here. I really love playing in Rod Laver Arena, particularly night sessions. I’ve had plenty of success that hopefully can continue this year.”
Djokovic is the fourth seed, but he has been playing as well as anyone on Tour over the past several months. He captured titles in Tel-Aviv and Astana last October before claiming his sixth Nitto ATP Finals crown in Turin.
“I’m in a very good shape. I ended the year in the best possible way, and continued that form in Adelaide. I like the way I played there. I beat some really good players, especially in the last few matches of the tournament,” Djokovic said of winning the ATP 250 at the start of the season. “I like my chances. I always like my chances. I train as hard as really anybody out there. There’s a lot of youngsters now that are very hungry, that want to win. They want to take a scalp off you on the big stadium. I know that.
“Experience of being in these kind of particular circumstances helps I think to have the right approach and do things in a proper way because I know when I’m healthy and playing my best, on this court I have chances really against anybody.”
The only scare for Djokovic came in the semi-finals of the Adelaide International 1, where he hurt his hamstring during his victory against Daniil Medvedev. The Serbian recovered to defeat Sebastian Korda in a three-set final, in which he saved a championship point.
“I’ve been struggling with that a bit, to be honest, the past seven days. But it’s hopefully not the major concern. So far I’ve been able to train, compete and play points, practice sets. So that’s a positive sign,” Djokovic said of his hamstring. “Obviously, I’m being a bit more cautious. I’m not going full out on the training sessions, conserving the energy for next week. Hopefully it won’t cause an issue for me then.”
Although Djokovic will have all eyes on him in Melbourne as the tournament favourite, he is also keeping the opportunity to again etch his name in the history books in perspective.
“At this stage of my career, of course the biggest ones count the most, the biggest events, and trying to stay healthy and mentally fresh and joyful on the court,” Djokovic said. “It’s important, because at the end of the day it’s a good balance between setting up the goals and trying to achieve those goals and being professional about it, but also the other side is why are you playing tennis. I choose to play, I really love playing tennis. It brings me wonderful emotions. Sometimes not.
“It’s a great way for me to learn more about myself, to grow in life as a personality. Hopefully I’ll also bring good emotions to people that watch me play live on the court or on TV. Knowing all these things, I try to balance things out because it is a professional mission that I have, but at the same time it’s also a personal mission. I try to enjoy every single moment.”