The first major of 2023 finished with an exciting women’s final and a predictably brilliant men’s champ

Novak Djokovic
Despite various issues on and off court, Novak Djokovic secured title no.10 at Melbourne Park | Victor Velter - Shutterstock

The first grand slam of 2023 brought a very familiar men's champion and a rejuvenated maiden women's winner. There was an American charge in the men's draw, an impressive surge from the Wimbledon champion and even an epic run from Andy Murray to savour.

Here are a few of the talking points that caught my eye at the 2023 Australian Open.

Djokovic Makes It 10 Down Under

When I started watching tennis in the late ‘90s, Pete Sampras’s seven-title haul at Wimbledon was an astonishing achievement, while his overall major total of 14 was outrageous.

On Sunday, after a slightly dramatic final with Stefanos Tsitsipas, Novak Djokovic secured his 10th Australian Open. In that respect, he joins Rafael Nadal (Roland Garros) as the only two men to have lifted the trophy of one grand slam at least 10 times.

Of course neither man has been particularly generous away from those locales and the Serb equalled the Mallorcan on 22 grand slam titles apiece, two clear of Roger Federer.

Despite the furore over Djokovic’s hamstring issue, and the unfortunate video of his father mingling with Pro-Putin supporters, the 35-year-old is still able to put everything aside beyond the lines.

Over the course of his 6-3 7-6 7-6 victory on Sunday, Djokovic proved once again that he is simply too good for the vast majority of the ATP Tour, including the third seed.

Now back to world no.1 and seemingly fit and motivated, is he now favourite for Roland Garros given Nadal’s physical problems?

Service Charge Pays Off For Sabalenka

Last year, after an improbable recovery to reach the WTA Finals, Aryna Sabalenka finished the season with an appalling 428 double faults from 55 matches. That’s almost eight a match and on some occasions she hit 20 in one sitting.

After reconstructing her serve in the latter part of 2022 with the help of a biomechanics expert, the Belarusian is now a completely different proposition. Allied with a more even temperament than before, Sabalenka averaged fewer than three double faults per match over the fortnight and struck 46 aces in total.

As a regular fixture at the top end of the tour, it’s even harder to change something fundamental in your game given the scrutiny and calendar pressure. But Sabalenka has managed it and deserves enormous credit.

In what was a fantastic battle in the final, Sabalenka claimed her maiden title thanks to her slightly superior movement, returns and the vital progression in her on court demeanour and service action.

This time 12 months ago, the Belarusian at one point resorted to underarm second serves because her motion had imploded. In the final two sets of Saturday’s final, the biggest match of her life, Sabalenka donated just two doubles. How impressive is that?


I’m not sure what to make of Tsitsipas’s run in Melbourne.

On the one hand, the Greek reached another grand slam final and was only beaten by one of the all-time greats in their best tournament. That’s absolutely accurate.

But on the other hand, the 24-year-old had a great draw and did not have to face a top 10 player before the final. In the championship match, he fared worse than his previous outing (Roland Garros 2021) where he did snatch two sets off Djokovic before falling.

Is it the simple case that Djokovic is too good, or does Tsitsipas have that extra gear inside him that Daniil Medvedev, Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev have occasionally found?

Rybakina Finally Rewarded

While she lost the final, there’s no doubt that it was a brilliant fortnight for Elena Rybakina who showed that she can now be a reliable contender at the majors. The Wimbledon champion was particularly impressive during her straight sets win over Iga Swiatek.

After bristling at the ridiculous scheduling that had her on Court No.13 in round one, I’m delighted that Rybakina finally received the rankings boost that her Wimbledon triumph deserved.

As of today, the 23-year-old is finally a top 10 player and set up for a terrific season.

Men’s Draw Lacked Spark

After a riveting US Open where Carlos Alcaraz simultaneously won the championship and became world no.1, the 2023 Australian Open men’s event was underwhelming.

In Djokovic’s domain, very few men can legitimately compete with the legend. Unfortunately for spectators and Australia’s Channel 9, none of those competitors were around by the second week.

With Roger Federer off skiing, the draw suffered further blows with the withdrawals of Alcaraz and Nick Kyrgios. Then, defending champion Rafael Nadal exited early due to yet another injury.

To make matters worse, recent leading lights like Daniil Medvedev, Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev are searching for form, fitness or both. With Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka not the forces they once were, there was arguably no one in the draw that was a legitimate threat to Djokovic’s crown.

So it proved with the Serb closing out the final five matches of his campaign in straight sets. Let’s hope there’s a very different spectacle in store when Paris rolls around.

Swiatek Set To Rebound

While she was the justified favourite going in, Iga Swiatek didn’t really fire in Melbourne. Afterwards, the world no.1 admitted that she “felt the pressure” of her status going into the event.

That said, losing to the reigning Wimbledon champion is hardly a disgrace and I expect Swiatek to rebound swiftly in the Spring, particularly at Indian Wells where the conditions are made for her.

American Men Become Formidable Force

It’s a sign of America’s strength in depth that their best player, Taylor Fritz, wasn’t even one of the three men who made the last eight in Melbourne. While Tommy Paul, Sebastian Korda and breakout star Ben Shelton comprised the trio, it could easily have been Fritz, Frances Tiafoe, Brandon Nakashima or Jenson Brooksby under the right circumstances.

There are now 10 American men in the top 50 with nine of those aged 25 or under. It's 20 years since Andy Roddick’s US Open success, is the US's (male) major famine nearing an end?

Czech Factory Line Rolls On

Speaking of countries churning out tennis stars, the Czech Republic has not lost its touch. 21-year-old Jiri Lehecka lit up the men’s event with his run to the last eight while 17-year-old Linda Fruhvirtova made the fourth round in the women's.

We shouldn’t forget 18-year-old Linda Noskova, who beat Ons Jabeur, Victoria Azarenka and Daria Kasatkina in Adelaide. And then there’s Linda’s younger sister, Brenda, who rose almost 1,000 places in the rankings last year and qualified for this Australian Open aged 15.

The Czechs boast an extraordinary production line for a country of 10.5 million people. There are more women in the WTA’s top 100 from the Czech Republic than from France, Germany and the United Kingdom combined.

Night Moves

In a particularly boisterous Aussie Open, the auld night match kerfuffle reared its head yet again.

While CNN were fascinated with Andy Murray’s denied request for a toilet break during his late epic with Thanasi Kokkinakis, there is a more important question to consider: why the hell are the sport’s players competing at 3am?

The Australian Open and US Open are famous for their night matches, while Roland Garros has recently jumped into the pool with mixed results. There’s no doubt that if players have to play well into the following morning, they started too late.

Organisers are torn between a few competing interests. While they obviously want a decent return for night tickets to prop up the coffers, a big name is needed to get the punters in. However, there is a difficult balance to strike between a women’s match which could potentially run under an hour, or a men’s contest that could go over five.

My solution would be to start the evening session earlier and have one match, alternating between men and women. In order to cut down on the possible perception of gouging, just charge €30 or thereabouts for a ticket. If the price is that affordable, daytrippers will be interested in hanging around for the spectacle. It’s also a reasonable price point to watch any top 30/home player and an absolute bargain to see Djokovic, Nadal, Swiatek etc.