2024 Australian Open: Rafael Nadal misses out, Naomi Osaka returns and Novak Djokovic on the edge of history

This year’s Australian Open is set to be the tournament of comebacks, but not every returning star will end up competing at this season’s first slam.

Fans, for instance, won’t get the chance to see Rafael Nadal in action as the Spaniard’s hopes of returning to grand slam tennis ended this week after he picked up yet another injury during a warmup event in Brisbane.

However, the sport will welcome back the likes of Naomi Osaka and Emma Raducanu, who have both been missing from the big stage for quite some time.

Injuries ravaged Raducanu’s 2023 season with the Brit only featuring in one of the four grand slams events – beaten in the second round of last year’s Australian Open.

Osaka, meanwhile, took a year away from the sport to focus on her mental health and then became a mother in July 2023.

Despite both pulling out of a charity event just days ahead of the Australian Open, the two stars are still expected to feature at what promises to be an unpredictable tournament at Melbourne Park.

How to watch

The Australian Open will begin on January 14 and will run for 15 days until January 28.

Tournament organizers added an extra day to its schedule in a bid to reduce pressure on players and fans following a series of punishing matches in recent years that ended well into the early hours.

The new schedule comes after growing calls to limit finish times across a notoriously crowded schedule marked by a number of matches going long into the night and taking a grueling toll on players.

Depending on where fans are in the world, the action will be broadcast on Discovery+ and Eurosport, as well as ESPN in the US.

Men’s draw: Destiny for Djokovic?

Many had hoped that Nadal would be in the running for yet another grand slam title at this year’s Australian Open after almost a year out of the sport. He had not played since last year’s edition Down Under after suffering an injury and undergoing hip surgery in June, which ruled him out for the rest of the 2023 season.

The Brisbane International marked the start of Nadal’s long-awaited comeback and the Spaniard showed promise before picking up a “micro tear on a muscle.”

With Nadal out, all attention is on Novak Djokovic in the men’s draw.

The Serb needs just one more grand slam singles title to break the all-time men’s or women’s record, an achievement that would make him the most successful tennis player of all time.

He currently shares the singles grand slam record of 24 with Margaret Court.

Djokovic comes off the back of an astonishing 2023 in which he won three of the four grand slams and a record seventh ATP Finals title.

He did, however, suffer a slight wrist injury in the buildup to this year’s Australian Open when he lost to Alex de Minaur in the United Cup quarterfinals.

Novak Djokovic is bidding to win his 11th Australian Open title. - Sydney Low/Cal Sport Media/AP
Novak Djokovic is bidding to win his 11th Australian Open title. - Sydney Low/Cal Sport Media/AP

“I think I’ll be okay, to be honest,” Djokovic told reporters after the defeat, as he bids to win an 11th Australian Open title. “But it did have quite an impact particularly in the forehand and serve.”

The 36-year-old will face 18-year-old Croatian Dino Prižmić in the first round.

‘Nole’ will certainly be pushed by a host of young talent looking to topple him from his perch.

The only man to beat him in a grand slam last season was Carlos Alcaraz, and the Spaniard will be looking to add to his tally of two major titles.

Djokovic will also face competition from Italian Jannik Sinner, who ended the Serb’s 19-match winning streak at the ATP Finals group stages last year, despite Djokovic going on to win the tournament.

American tennis is also riding a wave of momentum at the moment, with Frances Tiafoe and youngster Ben Shelton both having enjoyed deep runs at grand slams in the past.

“Sinner is a great talent and is well coached. I think he’s very well poised to win his first major in 2024,” Brad Gilbert, coach of US star Coco Gauff, told CNN Sport’s Don Riddell when previewing the men’s tour ahead of the new season.

“I think that Sinner and Alcaraz, I wouldn’t be surprised if they each won [a title] and I’ve really got big expectations this year for the American Ben Shelton.

“I think he’s going to be the first American [man] potentially to win a slam since Andy Roddick.”

Women’s draw: Raducanu, Osaka return

Meanwhile, in the women’s draw, the tournament is wide open.

Osaka’s return will be a major boost to the women’s game but, considering she’s only two matches into her long-awaited return, a title run at Melbourne Park may well be unrealistic.

The two-time Australian Open champion also faces a tough test against France’s Caroline Garcia in the first round.

Osaka is not the only mother to be competing at the tournament. Three-time grand slam champion Angelique Kerber is also set to play in her first major since 2022 after stepping away from the sport to have a child. Caroline Wozniacki will also be in the draw after coming out of retirement last year.

Elsewhere, a refreshed Raducanu could prove a threat as she bids to recover the form that won her the US Open in 2021.

The Brit has struggled since that historic achievement but has reconnected with her childhood coach Nick Cavaday as she bids to rekindle her spark.

Naomi Osaka is remaining positive as she continues her comeback to the sport. - Kyodo News/Getty Images
Naomi Osaka is remaining positive as she continues her comeback to the sport. - Kyodo News/Getty Images

Meanwhile, world No. 1 Iga Świątek is arguably the favorite to lift what would be her first Australian Open title.

The four-time grand slam champion, though, faces a tough draw and plays 2020 winner Sophia Kenin in the first round.

Second seed Aryna Sabalenka is the defending champion and perhaps the most obvious threat to Świątek. The Belarusian will play Ella Seidel of Germany in the first round.

Another contender is American superstar Gauff, who heads to Melbourne off the back of winning her maiden grand slam at last year’s US Open.

The American also comes into the tournament on good form, having lifted her second consecutive Auckland Classic – and eighth WTA title overall – after beating Elina Svitolina on January 7.

Gauff faces Slovakian Anna Karolína Schmiedlová in the first round and her coach is confident she can deal with the pressure that comes with being a grand slam champion.

“If you don’t get a little bit better, you fall behind and there’s new young players coming up every year,” Gilbert said.

“You can’t control what people say about you, but what you can control is the opponent in front of you and how you compete day in and day out.

“Those are the things that are most important that you need to focus on, not what the media is going to say you’re supposed to do or not supposed to do.”

Prize money

Players will be competing for a record-breaking prize purse at this year’s Australian Open, with a total of just over $58 million (86.5 million Australian dollars) up for grabs.

It’s a 13% increase on last year’s pot, with the winners of both the men’s and women’s singles tournaments earning over $2.1 million (3.15 Australian dollars).

The Australian Open says the prize money has more than quadrupled in the last two decades having stood at $19.1 million in 2005.

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