AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2023: Nadal defends title, Djokovic returns

By HOWARD FENDRICH

Top men to watch at the Australian Open, which begins at Melbourne Park on Monday morning (Sunday night EST):

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RAFAEL NADAL

Ranked: 2

Career-Best Ranking: 1

Country: Spain

Age: 36

2022 Record: 39-8

2022 Titles: 4

Career Titles: 92

Grand Slam Titles: 22 — Australian Open (2: 2009, 2022), French Open (14: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2022), Wimbledon (2: 2008, 2010), U.S. Open (4: 2010, 2013, 2017, 2019)

Last 5 Australian Opens: 2022-Won Championship, 2021-Lost in Quarterfinals, 2020-QF, 2019-Runner-Up, 2018-QF

Aces: Has won one of his past seven singles matches, a rut that began with a fourth-round loss to Frances Tiafoe at the U.S. Open in September. … Overturned two-set deficit in last year’s final at Melbourne Park to earn second Australian Open trophy and record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title overall. Then added a 14th championship at the French Open in June. … Dealt with foot and abdominal issues in 2022. … Recently became a father for the first time.

He Said It: “Every time that I am coming to a press conference (after a loss), it seems that I have to retire. You are very, very interested in my retirement. … When this day arrives, I’m going to let you know, guys. Don’t keep going with the retirement (questions), because I am here to keep playing tennis.”

CASPER RUUD

Ranked: 3

Career-Best Ranking: 2

Country: Norway

Age: 24

2022 Record: 51-22

2022 Titles: 3

Career Titles: 9

Grand Slam Titles: None — Best: Runner-Up, French Open (2022), U.S. Open (2022)

Last 5 Australian Opens: 2022-Did Not Play, 2021-4th, 2020-1st, 2019-DNP, 2018-2nd

Aces: Sat out the 2022 Australian Open after twisting his ankle in practice the day before the tournament began. … Entered last season with a 14-13 career record in Grand Slam main-draw matches and not one quarterfinal appearance at a major. He went 13-3 at those events in 2022, including runner-up finishes at the French Open (to Nadal) and U.S. Open (to Carlos Alcaraz, who won’t bet at Melbourne Park because of an injury). … Coached by his father, former professional player Christian.

He Said It: “I wrote down a goal (in middle school) that what I felt was reasonable was to be top 50 by 2025. It’s been going much faster. I have experienced and did much better than I thought was reasonable to think.”


AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2023: Nadal defends title, Djokovic returns

By HOWARD FENDRICHan hour ago

FILE - Spain's Rafael Nadal gestures in the team box after compatriot Spain's Jessica Bouzas Maneiro defeated Australia's Olivia Godecki in their Group D match at the United Cup tennis event in Sydney, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023. The 2023 Grand Slam season begins at the Australian Open next week. (AP Photo/Mark Baker, File)

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FILE – Spain’s Rafael Nadal gestures in the team box after compatriot Spain’s Jessica Bouzas Maneiro defeated Australia’s Olivia Godecki in their Group D match at the United Cup tennis event in Sydney, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023. The 2023 Grand Slam season begins at the Australian Open next week. (AP Photo/Mark Baker, File)

Top men to watch at the Australian Open, which begins at Melbourne Park on Monday morning (Sunday night EST):

___

RAFAEL NADAL

Ranked: 2

Career-Best Ranking: 1

Country: Spain

Age: 36

2022 Record: 39-8

2022 Titles: 4

Career Titles: 92

Grand Slam Titles: 22 — Australian Open (2: 2009, 2022), French Open (14: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2022), Wimbledon (2: 2008, 2010), U.S. Open (4: 2010, 2013, 2017, 2019)

Last 5 Australian Opens: 2022-Won Championship, 2021-Lost in Quarterfinals, 2020-QF, 2019-Runner-Up, 2018-QF

Aces: Has won one of his past seven singles matches, a rut that began with a fourth-round loss to Frances Tiafoe at the U.S. Open in September. … Overturned two-set deficit in last year’s final at Melbourne Park to earn second Australian Open trophy and record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title overall. Then added a 14th championship at the French Open in June. … Dealt with foot and abdominal issues in 2022. … Recently became a father for the first time.

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He Said It: “Every time that I am coming to a press conference (after a loss), it seems that I have to retire. You are very, very interested in my retirement. … When this day arrives, I’m going to let you know, guys. Don’t keep going with the retirement (questions), because I am here to keep playing tennis.”

TENNIS

AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2023: Swiatek is No. 1; Gauff seeks 1st SlamAUSTRALIAN OPEN 2023: Djokovic back in Melbourne; no BartyAUSTRALIAN OPEN 2023: Unvaccinated Djokovic back, year laterCollins, Kvitova advance to Adelaide International QFs

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CASPER RUUD

Ranked: 3

Career-Best Ranking: 2

Country: Norway

Age: 24

2022 Record: 51-22

2022 Titles: 3

Career Titles: 9

Grand Slam Titles: None — Best: Runner-Up, French Open (2022), U.S. Open (2022)

Last 5 Australian Opens: 2022-Did Not Play, 2021-4th, 2020-1st, 2019-DNP, 2018-2nd

Aces: Sat out the 2022 Australian Open after twisting his ankle in practice the day before the tournament began. … Entered last season with a 14-13 career record in Grand Slam main-draw matches and not one quarterfinal appearance at a major. He went 13-3 at those events in 2022, including runner-up finishes at the French Open (to Nadal) and U.S. Open (to Carlos Alcaraz, who won’t bet at Melbourne Park because of an injury). … Coached by his father, former professional player Christian.

He Said It: “I wrote down a goal (in middle school) that what I felt was reasonable was to be top 50 by 2025. It’s been going much faster. I have experienced and did much better than I thought was reasonable to think.”

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NOVAK DJOKOVIC

Ranked: 5

Career-Best Ranking: 1

Country: Serbia

Age: 35

2022 Record: 42-7

2022 Titles: 5

Career Titles: 92

Grand Slam Titles: 21 — Australian Open (9: 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2019, 2020, 2021), French Open (2: 2016, 2021), Wimbledon (7: 2011, 2014, 2015, 2018, 2019, 2021, 2022), U.S. Open (3: 2011, 2015, 2018)

Last 5 Australian Opens: 2022-DNP, 2021-W, 2020-W, 2019-W, 2018-4th

Aces: Returns to Australia and to Melbourne Park after being deported from the country a year ago because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19. … Government coronavirus rules have relaxed, plus what could have been a three-year ban for someone whose visa was revoked in Australia was waived. … Has won 34 consecutive matches in the country, including the past three Australian Opens he entered and this month’s tournament at Adelaide. … One short of Nadal’s men’s record for Grand Slam titles. … Has won at least two ATP titles each of the past 17 years.

He Said It: “I had far many more positive experiences in Australia (than) to throw that away just because of what happened last year. I feel very comfortable with people, normal people, that follow sport, that I encounter on an everyday basis. I haven’t had any negative experience so far.”

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DANIIL MEDVEDEV

Ranked: 8

Career-Best Ranking: 1

Country: Russia

Age: 26

2022 Record: 45-19

2022 Titles: 2

Career Titles: 15

Grand Slam Titles: 1 — U.S. Open (2021)

Last 5 Australian Opens: 2022-RU, 2021-RU, 2020-4th, 2019-4th, 2018-2nd

Aces: Has joined Djokovic and Nadal as a leading title contender at hard-court Grand Slam tournaments, winning one championship and reaching three other finals only to lose to one of those two titans of the game each time. … In last year’s final at Melbourne Park, blew a two-set lead against Nadal. … Wasn’t able to play Wimbledon last season because of a ban on Russian and Belarusian players over the war in Ukraine.

TAYLOR FRITZ

Ranked: 9

Career-Best Ranking: 8

Country: United States

Age: 25

2022 Record: 46-21

2022 Titles: 3

Career Titles: 4

Grand Slam Titles: None — Best: Quarterfinals, Wimbledon (2022)

Last 5 Australian Opens: 2022-4th, 2021-3rd, 2020-3rd, 2019-3rd, 2018-DNP

Aces: Began this season by helping the United States win United Cup. … Had been 0-7 in third-round matches at major tournaments before getting to the fourth round at Melbourne Park in 2022. That helped propel him to a career year, including three titles — one a Masters 1000 at Indian Wells — and a debut Grand Slam quarterfinal at the All England Club. … Ended Nadal’s 20-match unbeaten run to start last season, then beat him again en route to the semifinals at the year-ending ATP Finals.

He Said It: “I guess I wouldn’t necessarily say what I love is playing tennis. What I love is competing.”

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NICK KYRGIOS

Ranked: 21

Career-Best Ranking: 13

Country: Australia

Age: 27

2022 Record: 37-10

2022 Titles: 1

Career Titles: 7

Grand Slam Titles: None — Best: Runner-Up, Wimbledon (2022)

Last 5 Australian Opens: 2022-2nd, 2021-3rd, 2020-4th, 2019-1st, 2018-4th

Aces: Withdrew from a tuneup tournament this month to rest his ankle, meaning the Australian Open will be his first official action of 2023. … One of the tennis players spotlighted in the new Netflix docuseries “Break Point.” … As mercurial as they come, could bow out in the first round or win the championship at Melbourne Park. … Had never been past the quarterfinals at any major tournament until he made it all the way to the final at Wimbledon before losing to Djokovic. … Case pending in Australian court on an assault charge.

He Said It: “Pretty much every other tournament during the year is a waste of time, really. You should just run up and show up at a Grand Slam. That’s what you’re remembered by.”

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at https://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

FILE – Spain’s Rafael Nadal gestures in the team box after compatriot Spain’s Jessica Bouzas Maneiro defeated Australia’s Olivia Godecki in their Group D match at the United Cup tennis event in Sydney, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023. The 2023 Grand Slam season begins at the Australian Open next week. (AP Photo/Mark Baker, File)

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