Australian Open 2024: Can anyone stop the Novak Djokovic juggernaut | Tennis News - Hindustan Times

Australian Open 2024: Can anyone stop the Novak Djokovic juggernaut

By, Mumbai
Jan 13, 2024 11:06 PM IST

The Serb resumes quest for an elusive calendar slam and an Olympic gold while Iga Swiatek is the favourite among women at the Australian Open

He’s won the men’s singles title at Melbourne Park a record 10 times, he’s on a 28-match winning streak in the tournament, and he’s the overwhelming favourite to defend his crown this time as well. Novak Djokovic is Australian Open royalty like no other and as he begins his 2024 season in earnest, one can expect him to be as determined as ever in his quest for an elusive calendar-year Grand Slam.

Serbia's Novak Djokovic, left, stands with his team during a practice session ahead of the Australian Open tennis championships at Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia(AP)
Serbia's Novak Djokovic, left, stands with his team during a practice session ahead of the Australian Open tennis championships at Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia(AP)

As Djokovic headlines the men’s side, top seed Iga Swiatek will begin the first Major of the year as the favourite for the women’s singles title. The Pole, however, is likely to face stiff competition from defending champion Aryna Sabalenka, last year's runner-up Elena Rybakina, and 2023 US Open winner Coco Gauff.

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Djokovic came agonisingly close to bagging all four Majors last year. After winning the Australian, French and US Opens, and finishing as runner-up at Wimbledon, he capped off the season by claiming the ATP Finals title for a record seventh time. This year, the 36-year-old will be eyeing a perfect run at the Slams along with his first-ever Olympic gold at Paris.

“It’s no different this year,” said Djokovic, winner of a record 24 men’s singles Grand Slam titles.

“I’m just hoping I can start the season in a way that I have been starting most of my seasons, throughout my career: with a win here in Australia, in Melbourne. My favourite place, no doubt. The season is so long. We have an Olympic year. Grand Slams and the Olympics are the big goals. It's not a secret that I want to break more records and make more history of the game. That's something that keeps on motivating me.”

No Nadal

While his great rival Rafael Nadal has withdrawn from the Australian Open due to a hip injury he suffered at the Brisbane International, Djokovic will have to contend with a number of players trying to steal the spotlight. Second seed Carlos Alcaraz, for whom the Australian Open is the only Major where he’s yet to make a mark, undoubtedly has what it takes to excel on hard courts. However, it’s Daniil Medvedev and Jannik Sinner who could pose the bigger challenge.

Medvedev, who has made it to the Australian Open final twice, hasn’t competed in a tournament since his semi-final loss at the ATP Finals in November, but his relentless baseline play can test the best. The 27-year-old beat Djokovic in the 2021 US Open final and is always a threat on his favourite surface.

Sinner, meanwhile, helped Italy achieve their second Davis Cup triumph to finish his season on a promising note. The 22-year-old beat Djokovic in the group stage of the ATP Finals last year before losing to him in the final, but he bounced back to beat the world No. 1 in the Davis Cup a week later. Armed with a powerful serve and crisp groundstrokes from both flanks, Sinner will surely be someone to watch out for in Djokovic’s half of the draw.

Swiatek leads the field

With former champions Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber back in the fray, there’s plenty of scope for surprises in the women’s singles section once again. To begin with, though, top-ranked Swiatek remains the player to beat as she aims for her first Major title Down Under. The 22-year-old, who had stormed to the WTA Finals title, began the year with a five-match unbeaten run at the United Cup in Perth.

Reigning champion Sabalenka leads the pack of challengers, having made it to the US Open final as well last year. The 25-year-old had taken the top spot in the rankings from Swiatek briefly in September and has the game to blow away opponents on her day.

Similarly, third-seed Rybakina also has a point to prove. The 24-year-old lost to Sabalenka in the Australian Open final in 2023 but showed how dominant she can be by beating her 6-0, 6-3 in the Brisbane International final last week.

Finally, there’s American teenager Gauff who will be full of confidence after beginning the year with the title in Auckland. The 19-year-old, whose triumph at the US Open last year had felt like the start of a special journey, has set her sights on bigger things.

“Some players’ goal is to win a Grand Slam. Once they reach that, it's kind of, ‘What's next?’ For me, I always knew I wanted to win multiple,” said Gauff. “The only thing I'll try to remember from that Slam is just the way that I won. It wasn't my best tennis. It was more so the mental fire.”

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