Photo : Martin Sidorjak
Good luck to anyone who entered a bracket competition for the 2023 Australian Open.
While the men’s title favourite is still alive in Melbourne, that’s just about the only predictable thing to happen in week one of the season’s first Grand Slam event. Maybe it’s because Novak Djokovic did not feature on Netflix.
There is a lot of catch up on from the first seven days at the Australian Open. Here’s what you need to know.
In Case You Missed It: Canadians struggle in week one
Historically, the Australian Open has been one of the better majors for Canadians and that was no different a year ago, when both Félix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov reached the quarter-finals and pushed the eventual finalists to five sets. And with seven Canadians in the main draw this year, expectations were high.
But the 2023 Australian Open did not go according to plan for the Canadian contingent.
No Canadians reached the second week in Melbourne, the closest being Auger-Aliassime who reached round four, only to be upset by 71st-ranked Jiri Lehecka in four sets. The sixth seed never looked comfortable in his first three matches, which include a comeback from two sets to love down in round two.
By reaching the fourth round, Auger-Aliassime was the last victim of the “Netflix Curse.” All 10 players featured in the recently-released Netflix documentary series “Break Point” struggled in Melbourne, if they played at all.
Of the ten players featured in the first five episodes, Nick Kyrgios, Paula Badosa and Ajla Tomljanovic all withdrew before the tournament. Matteo Berrettini lost in round one from match-point up, while Taylor Fritz, Thanasi Kokkinakis, and second seeds Casper Ruud and Ons Jabeur all lost in round two. Maria Sakkari was ousted in the third round leaving Auger-Aliassime as the last man standing.
Vasek Pospisil had a good chance to end his countryman’s run in round one when he took the opening set of the all-Canadian clash, but ultimately fell in a nearly four-hour four-setter to the Montrealer.
For the second year in a row, Denis Shapovalov suffered a heart-breaking loss after coming up just short in a comeback bid. He was beaten in round three by 10th seed Hubert Hurkacz despite rallying from two sets down to force a fifth. He lost in the same fashion to Rafael Nadal in 2022.
Caroline Garcia was a singular cause of frustration for the Canadians as she defeated both Katherine Sebov and Leylah Annie Fernandez in the first and second rounds respectively. For Sebov, it was a defeat in her Grand Slam main draw debut after qualifying for her first major.
Bianca Andreescu suffered her own heart-breaker in round two when she held match point in the second set, only to lose in three sets to Spanish qualifier Cristina Busca. Rebecca Marino lost in round one to Lin Zhu of China, who went on to reach the fourth round.
Only one Canadian remains in Melbourne, that being Gabriela Dabrowski. She and partner Giuliana Olmos picked up a pair of wins in their first two matches and are through to the third round of the women’s doubles draw.
Overall, chaos reigned in Australia in the first week, leaving a relatively wide open field on the women’s side and Novak Djokovic’s path to a 10th Australian Open even clearer.
For the first time in the Open Era, the top two seeds in both men’s and women’s singles failed to reach the quarter-finals. While Ruud and Jabeur fell victim to the Netflix curse (in the form of Jenson Brooksby and Marketa Vondrousova), the top seeds Rafael Nadal and Iga Świątek crashed out early too.
Nadal’s exit could largely be chalked up to a hip injury suffered in his second-round match against Mackenzie McDonald, although the reigning champion looked sluggish in his first-round match and in the lead-up to the injury in round two. Świątek was simply overpowered in the fourth round by Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina.
On the men’s side, the only Top 16 seeds remaining are No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas, No. 4 Novak Djokovic and No. 5 Andrey Rublev. For the women, only No. 3 Jessica Pegula and No. 5 Aryna Sabalenka are still standing among the top seeds, although three former major champions, Rybakina, Jelena Ostapenko and Victoria Azarenka, are all still alive.
One highlight from week one was Andy Murray turning back the years in his first two matches. He contributed to the Netflix curse by taking out both Berrettini and Kokkinakis in five-set thrillers. He denied a Berrettini comeback in round one, beating the Italian in a fifth-set tiebreak after Berrettini had rallied from two-sets down.
His second round match is an early match of the year and comeback of the year candidate as Murray trailed Kokkinakis by two sets and 5-2, only to fight back and win 7-5 in the fifth set in five hours and 45 minutes, the longest match of the Scot’s storied career. He ran out of gas in round three against Roberto Bautista Agut.
What to Watch: Can anyone deny Djokovic?
Heading into the 2023 Australian Open, Novak Djokovic was already the overwhelming favourite. But now that the draw has completely imploded, the odds of him winning Aussie Open No. 10 and tying Rafael Nadal with 22 majors are even higher.
He will play Andrey Rublev in the quarter-finals and will then meet the winner of the All-American battle of first-time major quarter-finalists between Tommy Paul and Ben Shelton in the semifinals.
On the top half, Stefanos Tsitsipas is the favourite to reach his second major final. He plays Jiri Lehecka in the quarter-finals and would then meet either 18th-seed Karen Khachanov or 29th-seed Sebastian Korda in the semis.
Jessica Pegula will hope not to emulate the NFL team her family owns, the Buffalo Bills, and avoid crashing out early despite being the title favourite after Swiatek and Jabeur’s defeats left her as the highest-ranked player remaining.
It won’t be easy for the American, who meets two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka and then would have to go through another major winner, either reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina or 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, in the semis.
Aryna Sabalenka has carried her strong form to start the year into Melbourne and looks primed to reach a first major final. She has yet to drop a set at the Australian Open and meets unseeded Donna Vekic in the quarter-finals. Either 30th seed Karolina Pliskova or Magda Linette would be waiting in the semis.
Gabriella Dabrowski will face an unseeded team in round three of the women’s doubles. With a win, she and Giuliana Olmos would play the 10th seeds in the quarter-finals and could face second seeds Pegula and Coco Gauff in the semis.
Under the Radar:
It was not just the adults competing last week in Melbourne. Three young Canadians were competing in the junior competitions.
Only Keegan Rice managed to win a match, advancing to the second round of the doubles. He lost in first-round match in singles. Naomi Xu and Ellie Daniels represented Canada in the girls’ draws, but lost in first round of both singles and doubles.
Away from Melbourne, 17-year-old Kayla Cross reached the doubles final at an ITF W25 event in Boca Raton, the third doubles final of her career. She and partner Renata Zarazua upset the top seeds on their way to the final, where they lost to the fourth seeds in a third-set match tiebreak.
Benjamin Sigouin also reached a doubles final last week, at the M15 event in Ithica, NY. He and Max Kiger were the top seeds, but lost in straight sets in the final to the second seeded pair.
Cadence Brace reached the quarter-finals of a W25 event in Guadeloupe.
This week on the ATP Challenger Tour, Vasek Pospisil returns to Quimper, France, where he won the title last year.
You can follow the Canadians in action every week here.