The tennis season is about to get completely real. The first Grand Slam of the year, the Australian Open, begins on Sunday, January 14. The field appears to be fairly wide open on both the men's side and the women's side, especially as Novak Djokovic appears to have suffered a recent wrist injury.
At the 2023 Australian Open, Djokovic won for the 10th time, but Aryna Sabalenka won on the women's side. There are several players on the WTA with a real chance to take home the title for the first major of the year. Sabalenka could win for the second straight year, of course, but Iga Swiatek, Coco Gauff, and Elena Rybakina are just as worthy.
This week there are a couple of warm-up tournaments happening. Rybakina is involved in the Adelaide International, but she might have caught a break in a weird way. Let's start there.
Elena Rybakina gets dominated in Adelaide but that might be a good thing
Elena Rybakina started the year strong and was on a six-match winning streak until she met Ekaterina Alexandrova in the Adelaide International. Alexandrova is like facing a screwball pitcher in baseball in that she tries to throw off the rhythm of her opponents with some interesting shot-making. She can hit with pace, but she is inconsistent.
But not against Rybakina in the quarterfinals in Adelaide. If you didn't know which player was who, you might have guessed Alexandrova was the third-ranked player on the WTA tour. Alexandrova dominated 6-3 6-3. But this might be good for Rybakina heading into the Australian Open as a loss gives her a few days of rest and reminds her she cannot take for granted any match.
Hope for Novak Djokovic
After losing too early in the United Cup to a red-hot Alex de Minaur while also struggling with a new wrist injury, Djokovic might have gained a bit of confidence on Thursday. Djokovic played Stefanos Tsitsipas in an exhibition match as part of the Australian Open. While the match would never have had the intensity of a late tournament one, Djokovic has to feel better about his wrist as he seemed to have no issues against the Greek.
The two players only played one set (because so close to a Grand Slam, why would the players risk further injury?), but Djokovic got an early break against Tsitsipas and simply held all of his own service games. It was the kind of efficient performance that has gotten Djokovic 24 Grand Slam titles. He very likely will win major number 25 in a couple of weeks at the end of the Australian Open.
The Australian Open draw is announced
We already knew who the top seeds were going to be in Melbourne, but we didn't know who would be playing who in the first round. The draw was announced on Thursday, though. There are some intriguing potential first-round matchups.
Top-seeded Djokovic will start against a qualifier so no suspense there. Tsitsipas has a tough opponent in Matteo Berrettini to begin the tournament. Tenth-seeded Alex de Minaur will take on Milos Raonic in another interesting match, while second-seeded Carlos Alcaraz will play Richard Gasquet.
On the women's side, top-seeded Iga Swiatek gets a tricky first-round match against Sofia Kenin. Third-seeded Rybakina will have to take on Karolina Pliskova. Naomi Osaka will play 16th-seeded Caroline Garcia. In many ways, the top-seeded players got more difficult matchups than the lower-seeded players.