Champions return and revitalised Raducanu? – Australian Open talking points

The new year’s first grand slam kicks off in Melbourne on Sunday.

The Australian Open has a new timetable and plenty of familiar faces returning to its blue courts.

Here, the PA news agency picks out five talking points.

Late nights a thing of the past?

For the first time, the tournament will mimic the French Open and start on a Sunday, becoming a 15-day event. Organisers insist the primary motivation is to prevent matches going on until the early hours, which has become routine, with fewer contests scheduled across the day on Rod Laver Arena and Margaret Court Arena. But there will still be two per night session and, with matches lasting ever longer, it seems unlikely to make a big difference.

Former champions return

No fewer than three past winners at Melbourne Park were due to make their comebacks after long absences. An untimely muscle injury suffered on his return to action in Brisbane has unfortunately sidelined Rafael Nadal, who has not played in a grand slam since sustaining a hip problem in Melbourne 12 months ago. But two-time champion Naomi Osaka returns following the birth of daughter Shai last summer with an apparent renewed hunger for life on tour while 2016 winner Angelique Kerber is another new mother back for more.

Raducanu revitalised

Could Emma Raducanu’s eight-month break following surgery on both wrists and one ankle turn out to be the making of her? Stepping out of the whirlwind that engulfed following her 2021 US Open win has given the 21-year-old the chance for a fresh start and will hopefully allow her to establish a more solid base. She has turned to childhood coach Nick Cavaday for guidance but continues to travel without a full-time physio or fitness trainer. She gave a reminder of her talent in an encouraging first tournament back in Auckland last week but the major question mark remains whether her body can hold up to the rigours of the professional game.

Last hurrah for Murray?

Andy Murray conjured up two of his more memorable wins in Australia last year, seeing off Matteo Berrettini in five sets and then somehow fighting back to defeat Thanasi Kokkinakis at 4am. The Scot played at his best level since hip surgery in 2023 yet it was another season of frustration and near misses rather than the sort of achievements he craves. Murray cut a particularly unhappy figure at the end of the year and is openly talking about how long he has left. If this is the 36-year-old’s last appearance at Melbourne Park, hopefully it will be one to remember for the right reasons.

Swiatek v Sabalenka

The battle for supremacy in the women’s game rolls into a new year. Aryna Sabalenka is the defending champion having lifted her first grand slam title 12 months ago and she outperformed Iga Swiatek at the majors in 2023 by reaching two finals and two semi-finals. But the Pole reclaimed the world number one ranking with a dominant performance at the WTA Finals and remains the player to beat. Throw Coco Gauff into the mix, now a grand slam champion after defeating Sabalenka in New York, and an intriguing fortnight awaits.


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