Tennis remains the only major professional sport without a proper off-season, so the start of the 2023 tennis season is just weeks away. Here are ten things to look forward to in tennis in 2023.
Ten Things To Look Forward To In Tennis
1.The Great Three-Generational Battle In Men’s Tennis
After the era of the Big Three finally ended with the retirement of Roger Federer, tennis in general and men’s tennis in particular can look forward to a great three-generational battle. That’s because for the first time in the history of tennis – indeed, in the history of all major professional sport – there will be Major-winners (and potential Major-winners) from three different sporting generations competing for the sport’s biggest prizes.
Of course, two of the Big Three remain, in Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, but both are now in their mid-thirties. Nearly a decade younger than them are what were called, until a year or so ago, “The Next Generation”, led by Daniil Medvedev (the only member of that particular generation to win a Major so far), but backed up by other potential Major-winners in Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev and Alexander Zverev after his return from serious injury.
However, most excitingly of all is the next “Next Gen”, or “Now Gen”, led by Carlos Alcaraz, who of course won his first Major in 2023 in New York. And he is ably supported by a seemingly infinite number of other potential Major-winners in their late teens or early twenties: Holger Rune; Felix Auger-Aliassime; Jannik Sinner; Lorenzo Musetti; and many more besides. No major professional sport has ever had members of three different sporting generations competing against each other simultaneously, as men’s tennis will in 2023. The results should truly be historic.
- The Emergence of Iga Swiatek’s Rivals
Sport, just like nature, abhors a vacuum. So, just as Iga Swiatek herself stepped up to fill the giant #1-sized hole left by Ash Barty after the Australian’s retirement early in 2022, other women will surely emerge in 2023 as serious competitors to Swiatek herself. That was already evident at the WTA Finals in Fort Worth, Texas, when Swiatek was expected to sweep all before her. Instead, the season-ending event was won by the resurgent Caroline Garcia, who will surely be among Swiatek’s main opponents in 2023 at the Majors.
However, the same could also be said of Aryna Sabalenka, if she can ever learn to fully harness her enormous power, and Elena Rybakina, who has already won Wimbledon, if not the ranking points that should have gone with that triumph. And of course there remains, however unlikely, the possibility that one day Ash Barty herself might decide to return to tennis. If she did, then her rivalry with Swiatek could be one to rival the very finest ever seen in women’s tennis.
- Novak Djokovic Going For A 10th Australian Open Title
Now that Novak Djokovic has been allowed to return to Australia, after being deported last year for his defiant stance on not being vaccinated against Covid, he will surely be more determined than ever to extend his record haul in Melbourne by winning a 10th Australian Open title. However, although he will almost certainly start as the favourite for the tournament, there will be at least two other men who will believe they can seize the crown that Djokovic has made his own.
For the first time since 2010, Rafael Nadal will be defending the Australian Open title, after winning in Melbourne so spectacularly at the start of 22 to win a record-breaking 21st Major title (a record he would soon extend to 22 in Paris). His comeback from two sets down against Daniil Medvedev in the 2022 Australian Open final, when he looked like a boxer completely out for the count, was one of the most remarkable in sporting history, let alone tennis history. So, having finally won a second Aussie Open title, Rafa will be most reluctant to relinquish it without a fight.
Of course another Spaniard, the 19-year-old world #1 Carlos Alcaraz, will be just as determined as his much older compatriot to win in Melbourne. Alcaraz has already shown that he can excel on most surfaces, but hardcourt remains his favourite. Thus, he will be playing on his surface of choice when he attempts to do in 2023 what Daniil Medvedev was unable to do in 2022 – become the first man in the Open Era to win his first two Majors back to back.
- Rafael Nadal Going For A 15th French Open Title
It says everything about the extraordinary, indeed historic achievements of the Big Three that Roger Federer’s record haul of eight Wimbledon titles is now the smallest of their hauls at Majors. That’s because just as Novak Djokovic will be going for a record-extending 10th title in Melbourne at the start of the year, so Rafael Nadal will be attempting to win Roland Garros for a 15th time in the spring.
If Nadal succeeds, and it would take an absolute fool to bet against him, that would surely be a record that would stand forever, even in the relentlessly competitive and ever-improving world of professional sport. Even more importantly, it might just give him the perfect opportunity and stage to follow Federer into retirement.
- Ons Jabeur Going One Better At A Major
Ons Jabeur has already won the hearts of tennis fans around the world with her unique brand of tennis, a brand that is based on seemingly endless invention of shot. However, having reached two Major finals in 2022 (at Wimbledon and in New York), she and her legions of fans, especially in the Arabic and African worlds, will be absolutely desperate for her to go one better in 2023 and become the first Arab or African woman to win a Major Singles title.
The fear is that, like Morocco at the 2022 World Cup, Jabeur (who of course is from neighbouring Tunisia) will fall just short and that she will lack the sheer weight of shot to compete with the tennis titans she faces, in particular Swiatek, who beat her in both her Major finals so far. If, however, Jabeur can overcome the odds, a la Arthur Ashe in the 1975 Wimbledon final against the similarly fearsome Jimmy Connors and with a similar game built on slicing and dicing, then tennis and indeed sport in general will hail one of the most magically gifted Major Champions ever.
- Emma Raducanu Returning To Form
Unlike Ons Jabeur, Emma Raducanu has already won a Major, having triumphed at the 2021 US Open in probably the most surprising maiden Major victory ever, in either women’s or men’s tennis. Of course since then she has not come anywhere near replicating such stellar form. Indeed, in 2022 she appeared to have more coaches than tour wins.
However, as Raducanu herself has defiantly maintained ever since her win in New York and throughout all her subsequent travails, she will forever be a Major-winner, whatever happens with the rest of her career. The challenge for her now is to prove that she is not just the ultimate “One-Slam Wonder” and instead knuckle down with new coach Sebastian Sachs to rise up the rankings and give her a chance of competing for a second Major triumph in the future, starting in 2023.
- Jack Draper Continuing His Impressive Rise Up The Rankings
Ever since he took a set off Novak Djokovic in the opening match of the 2021 Wimbledon Men’s Singles, Jack Draper has looked like a young man on a mission. His rise into the world’s top 50 in 2022, culminating in his appearance at the Next Gen Finals in Turin, only confirmed the impression that he could be the best male British player since Andy Murray (Cam Norrie’s impressive efforts notwithstanding).
For Draper, the challenge is to build on his already mighty serve and develop the kind of all-court game that will surely be necessary to compete with Alcaraz, Rune and Auger-Aliassime in the long term, not to mention Nadal, Djokovic and Medvedev in the immediate term. However, he has already proven that he has the appetite for hard work that any potential champion requires and that work ethic, allied to one of the finest serves in the game, could just give him a chance to challenge at the very top of the sport.
- Novak Djokovic Going For A Record-Equalling Eighth Wimbledon Title
Novak Djokovic has not just one potential landmark to reach in 2023 but two. That’s because in addition to going for a record-extending 10th Australian Open title at the start of the year, he will surely also be bidding for a record-equalling eighth Wimbledon title in the summer. For FedHeds who are still in mourning for their lost idol, that statement seems almost counter-intuitive.
How can it be, they reason, that Djokovic can possibly be so close to matching their idol’s historic haul of eight SW19 titles? Well, he is and given that he remains by far the greatest grass-court player in the world, at least until Carlos Alcaraz learns how to play on the fastest, most treacherous and therefore most demanding of all tennis surfaces, he is likely to remain that way. Therefore, it is entirely likely that this time next year he will be looking forward to a record-breaking ninth Wimbledon title in 2024.
- The Continued Ascent of Canadian Tennis
Canada dominated men’s team tennis in 2022, winning both the ATP Cup in Australia in January and the Davis Cup in Spain at the very end of the season, claiming each title for the very first time. And in both those triumphs, Felix Auger-Aliassime was at the heart of things, in both singles and doubles, as he proved that he has probably overtaken Rafael Nadal as the greatest men’s team tennis player in the world.
The challenge for Auger-Aliassime and his compatriot Denis Shapovalov is to translate all that team triumph into even one individual Major success. It remains almost astonishing that Canada is yet to produce a male Major champion, with Milos Raonic going closest when he reached the Wimbledon final in 2016. The succession of injuries that Raonic has suffered ever since has probably put paid to his chances of ever competing for another Major again, but Auger-Aliassime in particular looks capable of at least matching Raonic’s 2016 achievement, if not bettering it, in 2023.
- And Finally, The Rescheduling of the Davis and Billie Jean King Cups
Both the premier men’s team tennis event and the premier women’s team tennis event were virtual afterthoughts at the end of the season, as they have been for far too long. Although there has been progress on the men’s side, with talk of (finally) combining both the ATP and the Davis Cup into one event, the Billie Jean King Cup is likely to remain side-lined for the foreseeable future.
Of course, the answer to the question of how to reschedule both the Davis and the Billie Jean King Cups, especially when the tennis season is already so congested, remains obvious. As I have long argued, tennis needs a real Tennis World Cup, one that could even combine both men’s and women’s tennis with a mixture of men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles, and mixed doubles, to determine the greatest tennis nation on earth. Hopefully one day that will come – if not in 2023, then before Carlos Alcaraz is as old as Rafael Nadal.
Main photo from Getty Images