With all four slams now in the book for 2023 it’s time to reflect on what the year has taught us, what has changed and indeed what has remained the same.
At the start of the year it seemed we were on the verge of a new “Big three” in Women’s tennis, after Aryna Sabalenka’s victory at the Australian Open.
By the end of the year, we had four individual winners across the four majors, with depth, unpredictability, and breakthrough performances the story of the year. However, it doesn’t necessarily make that pre-season prediction any less true.
Iga Swiatek still won the French Open and held the No.1 world ranking until just over a week ago, and Sabalenka was the constant presence deep in every major and could conceivably have won three of the four for the year.
Elena Rybakina’s illness at the French and the impact it had running into Wimbledon derailed things for her, but her hard-court form early in the year and her level for the season still has her in the frame.
Coco Gauff’s US Open victory made her the ninth individual player in the space of ten years to take the title at Flushing Meadows, and the fifth different winner in the last five years.
Her win was the crowning of years of potential for the still 19-year-old, and a forecast of what the future might hold given her efforts to defeat Swiatek and claim the Cincinnati title, and Sabalenka in the US Open final.
In the past 12 slam events over three years we’ve seen nine individual women claim Grand Slam titles. Swiatek with four leads the way, with the now retired Ash Barty the only other multiple winner in that time with two.
However, Swiatek, Sabalenka, Gauff or Rybakina have now occupied nine of the last 14 slots in Grand Slam Finals, with Ons Jabeur appearing in three finals during that time. The Women’s draw is simultaneously very open, but with a clear top echelon at the same time.
On the Men’s side, only four players have won slams in that same three-year time period. Djokovic leads the way with a phenomenal seven, Nadal and Alcaraz have two each with Medvedev claiming the other.
Significantly, Djokovic missed two of the tournaments where he didn’t claim titles, and in the case of Medvedev (2021 US Open), and Alcaraz (2023 Wimbledon), he reached the final and was denied the year slam with defeat.
Casper Ruud has appeared in three finals over the past two years, (second only to Novak) but is yet to claim his maiden crown.
At the start of the year we wondered whether the decline of Nadal would allow Djokovic free reign to dominate, or whether it would help herald the dawn of a new era in tennis.
The reality again is that it probably did both!
Djokovic has taken a stranglehold on the Greatest of All time status, setting a bar that is now likely to never be matched, with 24 majors to his name.
Nadal’s 22 slams is unlikely to change, with the champion forecasting an end to his career within the next 12 months as his fatiguing body reaches the end of the line.
Carlos Alcaraz looks to be the one name that can take it to Djokovic regularly in finals (perhaps Medvedev as well), and his victory at Wimbledon broke incredible streaks in Novak’s career.
He had won 103 straight matches after claiming the first set and had won eight straight five setters. Alcaraz broke both streaks in the most emphatic statement by a young talent since Djokovic himself beat Federer in the 2008 Australian Open semi-final.
Alcaraz also reached the French Open final, when cramp and fatigue brought him unstuck after a fantastic tussle in the opening two sets.
It is evident to everyone that Alcaraz is about to forge his own era, but at the same time Djokovic remains the king of the castle, and is the player to beat in every tournament he enters.
The new era is here, but Djokovic hasn’t committed to leaving the room just yet.
The other factor of note out of the year was Daniil Medvedev’s return to a grand slam final.
After his crushing defeat in last year’s Aus Open decider, he has floated around in the wilderness for a while, showing glimpses of his best but without the consistency that had driven him to a maiden slam title in 2021.
His strong back end of the year, with a win over Alcaraz and an appearance in the Flushing Meadows final is a positive sign that he can again climb the mountain.
It would be difficult to argue against Alcaraz and Medvedev (even despite his straight sets loss) being the only players seemingly with the quality to down Djokovic in the best of five arena.
2023…a year where so much stayed the same, yet it also looks like the wheels are in motion for change all at the same time.