Novak Djokovic has been deported, the world’s top tennis players are in position and the Australian Open officially kicks off its main draw action on Monday. Here are some burning questions we could get answered in the upcoming fortnight in Melbourne.
1. Will we have a new men’s world No.1 by the end of the Australian Open?
Djokovic’s absence means world No.2 Daniil Medvedev is the highest-ranked player in the tournament draw and the in-form Russian will be seen as the main contender for the title at Melbourne Park.
Medvedev, a finalist at the Australian Open to Djokovic 11 months ago and a maiden major champion at the US Open last September, is bidding to become the first man in the open era to win a second grand slam title on his next grand slam appearance.
The 25-year-old is also looking to become only the sixth man in the open era to win the Australian Open after winning the US Open in the previous season.
But, more importantly, should Medvedev manage to lift the trophy on Rod Laver Arena in two weeks’ time, he will replace Djokovic as the new world No.1 and become the first player outside the “Big Four” (Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray) to reach the summit of the rankings since Andy Roddick last occupied the top spot in February 2004.
World No.3 and German reigning ATP Finals champion Alexander Zverev also has a shot at dethroning Djokovic if he clinches the Australian Open crown.
2. Can Nadal break the men’s all-time grand slam record?
Nadal is the only former champion in the men’s singles draw at this Australian Open and the Spaniard has a golden chance to claim an all-time men’s record 21st grand slam title this fortnight, with Djokovic and Federer — the two players he shares the record with — both missing the tournament.
The sixth-seeded Nadal, who opens his campaign against American Marcos Giron on Monday, is contesting his first major since his semifinal exit at Roland Garros last June.
The Mallorcan has been dealing with a foot injury that forced him to miss Wimbledon and the US Open and is coming off a bout of COVID-19 but has made a reassuring return to the tour by winning the Melbourne Summer Set ATP 250 tournament in the build-up to this Australian Open.
The question remains whether his body will allow him to compete in a best-of-five format over the next two weeks.
“One day we’re going to see it. I can’t tell you a clear or accurate answer because I didn’t play best-of-five since Roland Garros,” Nadal said on Saturday.
“I just want to go day by day. Of course, I’m going to keep trying my best to improve. But every day I spend on court, I think it’s positive. Every match that I am able to win, it’s very important for my confidence, it’s important for my physical performance, and you never know what can happen later.”
3. Can Osaka defend a title for the first time?
World No.14 Naomi Osaka lifted the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup in both 2019 and 2021, and has won 22 of her last 23 matches in Melbourne.
The four-time major champion and seven-time titlist overall has never successfully defended a title and will be looking to change that at the Australian Open.
The Japanese former world No.1 returned to the tour a couple of weeks ago after a four-month absence and reached the quarterfinals of the Melbourne Summer Set tournament in her first event back. She retired ahead of her semifinal with an abdominal injury but is not too concerned ahead of her Australian Open first round against Colombian Camila Osorio on Monday.
“I heal quite fast. I’m as good as I can be in this current moment,” she said on Saturday.
4. Can Muguruza keep up her momentum from last season?
Two-time major winner Garbine Muguruza finished 2021 with a bang, clinching the WTA Finals in Guadalajara to move back up to No.3 in the world rankings.
The Spanish former world No.1 lost the Australian Open final to Sofia Kenin two years ago and has some unfinished business at Melbourne Park.
Muguruza had a long 2021 season that ended mid-November in Mexico, which could serve her well when it comes to maintaining form and momentum.
“I think I really focused on getting the necessary rest because you’re not losing your tennis. I think you prioritize getting back the energy, refresh the mindset and everything,” the 28-year-old said.
5. Will Barty keep her No.1 streak going?
Reigning Wimbledon champion Ash Barty will kick off her 104th consecutive week at No.1 entering this Australian Open, the fifth-longest streak in WTA history.
Two players could potentially unseat Barty at the top of the rankings: No.2 Aryna Sabalenka and No.4 Barbora Krejcikova.
Sabalenka needs to reach at least the final to have a chance of gaining the summit, but also needs Barty to lose before the title decider.
Meanwhile, Krejcikova will need to reach the final to have a chance of clinching the top spot.
If Barty reaches the third round or Sabalenka makes it to the final, then Krejcikova would move to No.1 only by winning the title. If Barty advances to the semis, Krejcikova cannot overtake the Australian.