10 players to watch at the Australian Open

Rafael Nadal defends his Australian Open title and Novak Djokovic returns while Iga Swiatek heads the women’s field in Melbourne.

The absence of Carlos Alcaraz is a blow for the tournament as well as the next generation’s hopes of gaining more ground in the men’s game, and home star Ashleigh Barty will also be missed after retiring following her 2022 triumph.

Here, the PA news agency picks out 10 players to watch at Melbourne Park.

Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal has had a difficult start to 2022
Rafael Nadal has had a difficult start to 2023 (Mark Baker/AP)

Top seed in the absence of his compatriot Alcaraz, Nadal returns to the scene of arguably the most remarkable of his 22 grand slam victories. Fearing a chronic foot problem might end his career, Nadal instead claimed his first title Down Under since 2009. The 36-year-old goes into the tournament on the worst run of results of his career but is a master at playing himself into form.

Novak Djokovic

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Twelve months on from the extraordinary saga of Djokovic’s deportation, it feels like business as usual, with the nine-time champion hot favourite for another Australian Open title. Whether there will be any hangover from his immigration travails will be a hot topic but on the court the 35-year-old looks as strong as ever and is highly motivated to add more major silverware.

Casper Ruud

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Ruud was twice a match away from winning his maiden grand slam title in 2022, losing to his idol Nadal in the French Open final and then Alcaraz at the US Open. With one of the game’s strongest forehands and terrific athleticism, the 24-year-old Norwegian will hope to take the next step this year.

Nick Kyrgios

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With his run to the Wimbledon final, Kyrgios proved to the tennis world – and himself – that he can be more than an entertaining sideshow. Now 27, the volatile Australian has a taste for grand slam success and, after winning a first slam title in doubles in Melbourne last year, will hope to challenge for the singles crown.

Holger Rune

Dane Holger Rune
Holger Rune stormed up the rankings in 2022 (Steven Paston/PA)

With Alcaraz sidelined, the title of leading teenage challenger goes to 19-year-old Dane Rune. Having started last season outside the top 100, Rune finished it ranked 11 after a remarkable week at the Paris Masters, where he beat five top-10 players including Djokovic to claim the title. The teenager brings attitude to the court and is an intriguing addition to the top ranks.

Iga Swiatek

Iga Swiatek
Iga Swiatek is bidding for a fourth grand slam title (Mark Baker/AP)

After years of instability in the women’s game, Swiatek seized the number one mantle following Barty’s shock retirement and made it her own, dominating on clay and then winning a third grand slam title at the US Open. The 21-year-old Pole is less of a sure thing on hard courts but showed her competitive mettle in New York and is a clear favourite.

Ons Jabeur

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Stylish Tunisian Jabeur proved Swiatek’s closest challenger in 2022 – albeit not very close. Blazing a trail for Arab and African women, Jabeur is peaking in her late 20s and will look to reach a third consecutive grand slam final. An exuberant presence on and off the court, the 28-year-old is a big asset for the women’s game.

Jessica Pegula

Jessica Pegula stunned Iga Swiatek at the United Cup
Jessica Pegula stunned Iga Swiatek at the United Cup (Mark Baker/AP)

The American number one but still very much a player under the radar. Pegula has made the quarter-finals at four of the last five slams without going further. The 28-year-old, whose family own the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres, heads to Melbourne full of confidence after beating Swiatek at the United Cup.

Caroline Garcia

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What a 2022 for 29-year-old Frenchwoman Garcia, who pulled herself out of the doldrums and climbed from 74 in the rankings to four. She broke new ground by reaching the semi-finals of the US Open and then ended the season by winning her biggest career title at the WTA Finals.

Linda Fruhvirtova

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The never-ending production line of Czech female talent is one of the wonders of tennis. The latest crop is led by 18-year-old Linda Noskova and the Fruhvirtova sisters – 17-year-old Linda and 15-year-old Brenda. Noskova fell in qualifying but Brenda will make her grand slam debut alongside Linda, who already has a WTA title to her name.