Who to Watch For at the Australian Open


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Nine-time champion Novak Djokovic is up against a legion of formidable young players at the 2023 AO.

The 2023 Grand Slam season kicks off on Sunday, January 15, with the beginning of the Australian Open. Coming off the rust of off-season makes for interesting shake-ups in competition, and the hard courts’ faster gameplay forces players to switch up their styles for more dynamic performance. The year 2022 showed that younger players are ready to take over the champion crowns. The tournament will set the Next-Gen’s precedent on whether their success will continue into the new year, and who will shine among them. Here are four players to watch during the two-week battle for the AO title.

Novak Djokovic

Serbia; World #5; 35 years old

Last January, Novak Djokovic’s total domination in 2021 was upended by his refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19. He was deported from Australia and barred from the AO. His vaccination status prevented his participation in many tournaments afterwards, including the US Open, sinking his rank from 1 to 7. However, the Serb spent the latter half of 2022 with a triumph at Wimbledon and three more tournament wins. He’s entering the 2023 AO off an impressive show at the Adelaide International and a particularly merciless performance at the ATP World Tour Finals. The ATP Finals are round-robin against the eight highest-ranked men’s players, six of whom were Next-Gen. Djokovic’s dismantling of his opponents came off as a message: he is still here at 35 years old and plans on staying. While many claim he is entering another prime, incidents like his recent hamstring tweak at Adelaide show the lack of match play in 2022 has impacted his long-term endurance.

Jessica Pegula

USA; World #3; 28 years old

World number 1 Iga Świątek has been a powerhouse for the past year. Her seemingly unstoppable reign has overshadowed the talents who occupy the next highest spots in the ranks. Enter world number 3 Jessica Pegula, one of the most promising talents emerging from the growing American tennis scene. At the United Cup last week, Pegula led the US team to victory by winning all of her singles and doubles matches, most notably beating Świątek in straight sets. Previously, Pegula lost all of her matches against Świątek during the year. This time the Pole was left in tears, showing that Pegula’s forceful game not only taps into opponents’ tactical weaknesses but their mental weakness as well. Her successful 2022 year is a testament to the hard work she puts in off the court. If she keeps up that passionate drive, she’ll be fighting her way into more tournament finals and possibly see a Grand Slam on the horizon.

Holger Rune

Denmark; World #10; 19 years old

Perhaps most famous in the tennis community for being the victim of Casper Ruud allegedly screaming in his face, teenager Holger Rune has revamped his mental game and is ready to make a name for himself. Rune’s the same age as Carlos Alcaraz, the Spanish sensation who won the US Open. Alcaraz is out of the AO with a leg injury. The press is enamored with powerful young showmen, and Rune’s physical and mental determination show he’s ready to take the spotlight – and the tournament. He earned the title of the first man to beat five top 10 players in the same tournament – Stan Wawrinka, Hubert Hurkacz, Andrey Rublev, Carlos Alcaraz, Felix Auger-Aliassime, and Novak Djokovic in the finals, interrupting the Serb’s budding winning streak. Rune still has years of room for improvement, so even if he doesn’t end up winning the AO, he’ll receive the competition he needs to become a fierce Next-Gen threat.

Caroline Garcia

France; World #4; 29 years old

Caroline Garcia didn’t make it far in the three tournaments she played after reaching the semifinals of the US Open. That changed at the WTA finals, which uses the same round-robin format as the ATP. Despite dropping a match to Świątek, Garcia swept the tournament and emerged victorious, sending her rank from 17 to 4. Garcia’s spectacle comes from her extremely versatile game. Her style changes from point to point, adapting to her opponents’ weaknesses until their quality tumbles from frustration. Her own biggest weakness is her inconsistency between tournaments. Garcia works better with an aggressive, offensive style where she can easily bend her opponents’ minds. If she loses that control early on in the AO, the distance she can reach is put in jeopardy.

2022 was the beginning of the Next-Gen revolution. 2023 will be its blossoming. However, there is an ultra-competitive atmosphere brewing among them to prevent another Big 3 monopoly of the previous era. The winners of the Australian Open will set a precedent for the 2023 season: will the Next-Gen flourish with a variety of winners, making for another golden age of fierce rivalry?

Or will Novak Djokovic and Iga Świątek beat them all?