Set small text size
Set default text size
Set large text size
Novak Djokovic has used a low-key return to Australia a year after his sensational expulsion to kick off his 2023 campaign.
He will kick off the season this week in Adelaide while rival Rafael Nadal will make his first appearance of the new campaign in Sydney.
With the pair sharing 43 Grand Slam titles between them – Djokovic has 21 and Nadal 22 – the stage is set for an epic showdown at Melbourne Park in January.
Nadal is the defending Australian Open champion and Djokovic is a nine-time winner.
Djokovic has returned to Australia for the first time since being sensationally detained and then sent off ahead of the 2022 Australian Open due to his refusal to get a COVID-19 shot.
Tournament director Craig Tiley said the Serbian star was the man to beat in Melbourne and felt he would receive a warm welcome.
The Australian Open boss reiterated that he doesn’t believe Djokovic would withstand a hostile reception from sports fans.
“I have great faith in the Australian public,” Tiley said.
“We are a very well-educated sporting public, especially those who come to tennis, they love their tennis, they love to see greatness, they love to see great sports, great games.
“And I have a lot of confidence that the fans will react the way we hope they will react and respect that.”
He begins his bid for an incredible 10th Australian Open title at the Adelaide International from Sunday, after a troubled and truncated year in which he missed two major tournaments due to his vaccination status. .
Djokovic was initially banned from entering Australia until 2025, but a new government in Canberra overturned the decision and he is now seeking more silverware at his most successful Grand Slam venue.
“Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to start really strong in Australia and I love playing there,” the world number five said in Dubai last week, after finishing 2022 with a record-breaking sixth crown. ATP Tour Finals.
“After obviously what happened earlier this year, hopefully I can have a decent reception there and hopefully that can help me play good tennis.”
He will face a top-notch field in Adelaide, including Felix Auger-Aliassime, Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev, ranked sixth, seventh and eighth respectively.
In Djokovic’s absence this year, Spaniard great Nadal swept Medvedev to win the Australian Open in an epic five-set match – then backed him up with a 14th French Open.
Nadal will begin his preparations in Sydney at the United Cup, a new mixed team event, where a blockbuster showdown with Australian showman Nick Kyrgios will test his credentials.
Eighteen countries will take part in the 11-day event from Thursday, with Brisbane, Perth and Sydney hosting group matches in a round-robin format.
The ties include two men’s singles matches and two women’s singles matches and one mixed doubles.
The final series will be played in Sydney.
World number three Casper Ruud and Germany’s Alexander Zverev, who is coming back from a serious ankle injury, will be there.
Top-ranked Carlos Alcaraz will warm up at the Kooyong Classic exhibition in Melbourne from January 10-12 as he recovers from the abdominal injury that shortened his pre-season training block.
The 19-year-old Spaniard, a major threat to Djokovic and Nadal, missed the season-ending ATP and Davis Cup Finals with a torn muscle but is confident he will be ready.
“I would say the key is to practice a lot, to put in a lot of hours on the pitch,” he said this month. “I will be ready and 100 per cent heading to Australia.”
Italian Jannik Sinner and world number nine Taylor Fritz, among others, will also use Kooyong to improve.
Women’s world number one Iga Swiatek will acclimatize in Perth with her Polish United Cup teammates after winning the French Open and US Open in 2022.
The three-time Grand Slam champion is targeting a maiden Australian Open title after losing in the semi-finals this year to Danielle Collins, who then crashed out to Ashleigh Barty in the final.
Swiatek inherited the top ranking after Barty’s shock retirement in March, and has dominated ever since.
Also in the United Cup are American world number three Jessica Pegula and French world number four Caroline Garcia, who were freshly beaten by Aryna Sabalenka to win the WTA Finals.
Four of the other 10 women in the top 10 start the year in Adelaide, with second-ranked Ons Jabeur, world number five Sabalenka, world number eight Daria Kasatkina and world number nine Veronika Kudermetova.