Defending champion Rafael Nadal casts his Spanish shadow as the top seed at the 2023 Australian Open draw, but a resurgent and returning Novak Djokovic stands to pounce on the opposite side of the draw.
The deportation and vaccine fray that captured the world’s attention and thrust Djokovic into a legal battle 12 months ago is now just the tennis version of a fever dream. The world moves uber-fast, and memories are short. After a win in Adelaide last week, the Australian Open’s number 3 seed sprints into the tournament as the favorite. It’s well deserved. Djokovic has won the Australian Open an ungodly nine times.
Nadal is 0-2 in Australia this summer, and he’s been struggling to regain form on his serve after an abdominal strain last year. Still, if 2022 proved nothing, it’s don’t bet against Rafa.
Gentle reminder: The Grand Slam tally stands at 22 for Nadal, 21 for Djokovic.
Dangerous players in this quarter include some bodacious Americans like Francis Tiafoe, still only 24 years old and rising “nepo baby” (meant in a good way) Sebastian Korda. Nadal and Tiafoe would meet in the 4th round in a potential rematch of the American’s US Open defeat of Rafa. Also in this area: Hubert Hurkacz, who is never fun on a fast surface, and at the bottom of the quarter, who lurks? None other than Daniil Medvedev, the man Nadal snuck up on in last year’s Australian Open Final. Intriguing and not an easy draw for Nadal– or anyone.
Perusing the other half, Stefanos Tsitsipas sits atop this quarter as the 3 seed overall. The Greek has a real shot here to go deep even if the Australian Open surface speed is not his best. We’ll see if he’s been developing that slice on the backhand wing. He wouldn’t face any huge threats until the quarterfinals. The lower section includes Jannik Sinner, Cameron Norrie and at the very bottom Felix Auger Aliassime. To me, this is quarter is very chalky, with Tsitsipas, Norrie or FAA coming through.
If Nadal didn’t get an easy draw, neither did Djokovic. The other side of the 2023 Australian Open features Andrey Rublev, the ever-entertaining Aussie Nick Kyrgios, brash young Dane Holger Rune and feisty Alex de Minaur. While Novak has no real problems near him, the other section of this quarter could feature a showdown between Kyrgios and Rune, quite possibly a combustible night match. That’s “if” Kyrgios doesn’t let his big Netflix debut distract him.
For Novak, either Grigor Dimitrov or Aslan Karatsev should make for a solid, but not testy warm-up on the way to a deep run.
Finally, the easy section of this 2023 Australian Open Draw. Casper Ruud, as the 2-seed overall, stands to benefit. However, this ice-fast surface is not where he shines, so look for an upset in this area. Matteo Berrettini is still coming back from injury and never seems to get to a fast start Down Under. Alexander Zverev, a 12 seed overall, is making his big push to comeback from last year’s horrific ankle injury, but he’s not in match-shape. That leaves the true favorite of this quarter– Taylor Fritz. The big-serving American loves Melbourne. He nearly knocked off eventual champion Djokovic two years ago. If he can get through slashing Nikoloz Basilashvili and hometown kid Alexei Popyrin in the second round, he’s got some cake.
An entertaining first round match to circle is Berrettini versus Andy Murray, but I’m not bullish on the Brit at the moment.
My players to watch:
QF: Nadal, Auger-Aliassime, Djokovic, Fritz
SF: Auger-Aliassime, Djokovic
The big question is whether reigning number one Iga Swiatek can add to her 3-Slam tally and keep this elite train running. A 2-time Roland Garros champion, Swiatek performs slightly better on slower surfaces, but that’s a nitpick. She’s capable of winning anywhere and everywhere. Her racket head speed on the forehand is otherworldly. She’s also got the fire and the mental toughness to get out of jams. To sum up: Iga until proven otherwise.
American Jessica Pegula recently upset Swiatek en route to a title in an Aussie run-up. Iga won’t like that. Unfortunately these two sublime players have ended up on the same half of the 2023 Australian Open draw. So they would meet in the semifinals, not the finals.
The next highest seed in Swiatek’s quarter is Coco Gauff, and this has been a terrible matchup for the American. Gauff stands at 0-5 to the Polish sensation, and it has not been pretty or even close. Danielle Collins, last year’s Australian Open finalist, lurks in Swiatek’s quarter, and they would meet in the 4th round. That’s the only trouble spot I see for Iga.
Pegula has a tougher draw. She’s got Barbora Krejcikova, Petra Kvitova, and Maria Sakkari in her quarter. Sakkari has been playing well, but she’s got the Netflix distraction, and Pegula has been at the absolute top of her game.
On the other half of this 2023 Australian Open draw stands Caroline Garcia and Daria Kasatkina in one quarter, and these are two quality players. I especially like Garcia if she can continue to take the ball early and groove her strokes. Approach the net here, Caro!
Finally, the most intriguing section includes Ons Jabeur and Aryna Sabalenka. Jabeur the disruptor is the most entertaining player on tour, but the fast surface leaves her less time to do her tricks. If Sabalenka’s serve is “on,” she’s practically unstoppable.
My Players To Watch:
QF: Swiatek, Pegula, Garcia, Sabalenka
SF: Swiatek, Sabalenka