The new tennis season begins this week with the inaugural United Cup in Australia.
The mixed team event, which will run from December 29 to January 8, will feature many of the world’s best players and provide a chance to gauge their form before the start of the year’s opening Grand Slam – l Australian Open – which starts on January 16.
Before the first pitch of the season is hit, we take a look at what the big tennis questions for 2023 could be and ask BBC tennis correspondent Russell Fuller for his verdict.
Will Nadal’s body hold up?
Rafael Nadal has won two Grand Slam titles in 2022, taking his tally to a men’s record 22 major singles trophies.
It was something of a resurgence for the 36-year-old – he hadn’t won a consecutive Grand Slam in 12 years – and his 14th French Open title came despite having ‘no feeling’ in his left foot while he had multiple injections to numb chronic foot pain.
After the win in Paris he underwent scorching treatment to avoid further blows and he went on to reach the Wimbledon semi-finals before retiring with an abdominal injury.
He shed tears in September when he played alongside Roger Federer as the Swiss ended his career and while Nadal’s mind clearly wants to continue playing tennis at the highest level, it seems that his body is getting more and more reluctant and maybe it won’t be too long. before following his great rival into retirement.
Nadal will be playing in the United Cup, so we should have a first clue about his fitness ahead of defending his Australian Open title.
Russell Fuller’s verdict: Not quite, I guess, but Nadal proved last year that he can still win Grand Slams between rest periods. And he has mastered the art of getting in shape for the second week of Roland Garros.
How will Djokovic be received in Australia?
A year ago, Novak Djokovic was expelled from Australia before he could begin his title defense after his visa was subsequently canceled due to his Covid-19 vaccine status.
He was automatically banned from entering the country for three years, but that was overturned and the former world number one will now return to Melbourne in search of a record 10th title.
The saga made headlines last year, dividing public opinion, and it’s unclear what kind of reception the Serb will receive when he steps out on the pitch. Tournament director Craig Tiley said last month he expected the crowd to be “fair”.
Russell Fuller’s verdict: My intuition is pretty good. I’m sure there will be anger on the radio calls when he arrives in the country, and a few larrikins in the stands at the Australian Open, but he’s a nine-time champion who can win over those fans.
Who could win a first Grand Slam in 2023?
Three of the four major men’s titles have been won by Nadal and Djokovic in 2022, continuing a trend of recent years – the pair have won 15 of the last 18 Grand Slam titles.
But the last three editions of the US Open have been won by different players, with Dominic Thiem, Daniil Medvedev and Carlos Alcaraz winning their first Grand Slam titles in New York.
Nadal has question marks over his fitness, Djokovic is lacking training after his vaccination status ruled him out of various events in 2022 and Federer has retired which could open the door to new champions.
Denmark’s Holger Rune put himself firmly in the conversation as he came from behind to beat Djokovic in the final of the prestigious Paris Masters final in November and the 19-year-old set his sights on more.
“I know what I want,” he said. “I want to win Slams. I won an ATP 250, reached an ATP 500 final and won a Masters 1000. It’s time for a Slam win.”
23-year-old Norwegian Casper Ruud, 2022 French and US Open runner-up, is hoping to do better, while 27-year-old Australian Nick Kyrgios will aim to build on his momentum with a Wimbledon final. appearance and a US Open quarter-final.
On the women’s side, Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur will be keen to win one of the big prizes after back-to-back finals in the last two Grand Slam tournaments of last season.
Russell Fuller’s verdict: Ons Jabeur and Casper Ruud now have Grand Slam final experience and a very high ranking and I see no reason why they can’t take the final step. And, more speculatively, could Chinese Zheng Qinwen or even 17-year-old Czech Linda Fruhvirtova go the distance?
Will Wimbledon let the Russians in?
Wimbledon Organizers were fined for their decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from the grass-court Grand Slam this year due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
There is no end in sight to the war, so Wimbledon are set to face a sensitive decision in the coming months over whether to continue banning players.
The men’s ATP Tour and women’s WTA Tour also stripped Wimbledon of ranking points in response to the ban and while players were still drawn to the event last year, it may become less appealing to them if there were no more points.
Russell Fuller’s verdict: The All England Club will be extremely keen to avoid a repeat of last year and bring the Championships back to full strength. But it will still be very difficult for them to ignore any strong government directive (whether public or not) to ban Russian players.
Will Raducanu find some consistency?
Emma Raducanu’s first full year on the tour has been frequently cut short by injuries and coaching changes, with the 20-year-old Briton unable to build on her incredible US Open 2021 success with more titles .
In an effort to make herself less injury-prone, she worked with physical trainer Jez Green, who played a key role in Andy Murray’s physical development early in his career.
“My biggest goal in 2023 is to be injured less,” she told lifestyle magazine SheerLuxe earlier this month.
“This year the demands of the tour, ranging from no training or endurance to competing at the highest level, my body struggled.
“So I’m going to work hard to keep my body fit and improve. If you want ‘resolution’ it’s probably to be consistent. Work hard, day in and day out.”
Russell Fuller’s verdict: Omens are more encouraging. Despite the wrist injury she suffered in pre-season, Raducanu had a much better training block. She’s avoided Covid this year and looks set to share Jez Green with Dominic Thiem on tour next year.
How far can Draper go?
This year marked a breakthrough season for 21-year-old Briton Jack Draper, who rose to a career-high 41st in the world from 265 at the start of the year.
He reached the semi-finals in Eastbourne and a quarter-final at the ATP 1000 in Canada, as well as the Next Gen finals, which are reserved for the Tour’s best players aged 21 and under.
Wins against top 10 players Stefanos Tsitsipas and Felix Auger-Aliassime, as well as former world number three Dominic Thiem, showed he can compete at the highest level and make him a player to watch in 2023.
Russell Fuller’s verdict: To finish the year in the top 20 would be fantastic, and not implausible. He starts the year at 42 – trying to halve your rating in one season is always a good goal for budding young players.
Will Serena Williams be back?
It’s not entirely impossible.
Since a farewell ceremony at the US Open in September after the 41-year-old announced she was “going away” from tennis, the 23-time US Grand Slam singles champion has claimed she was “not retired”.
And last month, she posted a picture of a plastic-wrapped tennis racket with the words, “I’m a little bored.”
Surely she couldn’t?
Russell Fuller’s verdict: No. But I’m sure she will think about it in the spring with Wimbledon and the US Open fast approaching.