The first major international sporting event of 2023 is about to serve up a storm. The Australian Open gets underway on Monday, with question marks over which stars are most likely to step up after a whole host of high-profile retirements in 2022.
In this article, we look at five big names making headlines now that Roger Federer, Serena Williams and last year's champion, Ash Barty, have hung up their racquets (no prizes for guessing that they include a certain Mr Novak Djokovic — try keeping him out of the news).
Djokovic is back in Australia a year after he was unceremoniously deported from the country having had his visa revoked by the government.
The Serb holds the record for most Australian Open men's singles titles with nine wins, but remains a divisive figure for his refusal to take the Covid-19 vaccine. As a result, he can expect a few jeers from the Melbourne Park crowd, but his main concern will be overcoming the hamstring injury that forced him to abandon a practice match with Daniil Medvedev less than a week before the start of the tournament.
No doubt his team of medics and physios will be working overtime in the coming days. Should they patch him up in time, Novak will be the man to beat — a fact he proved by winning the Adelaide International warm-up tournament in the first week of January.
With Barty retired, Swiatek is widely expected to take the women's crown in 2023. The Polish star had a dominant 2022, winning the French Open and US Open along with six other WTA Tour titles. She put together an impressive 37-match winning streak and, as you might expect, starts the tournament as world No1.
If there's one player who can stop Swiatek, it's Pegula. The world No.3 comprehensively outplayed her rival at the United Cup at the start of the month, winning 6-2 6-2 in little over an hour. The American reached the quarter-finals in 2022 before losing to the eventual winner, Ash Barty.
The big-serving Russian is another controversial figure in the men's game — not least for his on-court outbursts. If he can keep his toys in the pram rather than throwing them at umpires, he has the skill set to go all the way this year. Medvedev has proved he's a hard-court specialist,, having finished runner up in Melbourne for the past two years.
He may be the reigning men's singles champion, but Rafael Nadal suffered an injury-plagued 2022 and could well find this year's tournament tough going. That said, only a fool would write off the 22-time Grand Slam winner, who's proved time and time again that he's still hungrier than his rivals — even at the ripe old age of 36.
It's touch and go whether 2021 US Open champion Emma Raducanu, who struggled with various injuries and coaching team changes in 2022, will make the tournament having sustained a severe ankle sprain in the second-round match of her warm-up event in Auckland.
Meanwhile, world No.12 Cameron Norrie could be set for his best-ever Australian Open run, although his record in the tournament isn't great — the furthest he's reached is round three.
Dan Evans, Jack Draper, Kyle Edmund and veteran Andy Murray will also fly the flag in the men's tournament, while Harriet Dart joins Raducanu in the women's draw.