The start of a new year brings a new sense of energy and a swathe of new goals for players toiling away on the tour.
Everyone will want to start their year off with a bang because a poor start can leave you chasing the pack for the rest of the year. The Australian summer of tennis is the perfect way to get on the front foot, especially with the addition of new WTA and ATP events surrounding the Grand Slam.
While the headlines are usually focused on the big-name acts, here are some players who could use Melbourne as a launchpad for the rest of the season.
The 20-year-old Italian first raised eyebrows when he took home the Next Gen ATP Finals in 2019 and has since won five tour-level titles. Four of those titles came in 2021 as he became a constant threat to higher-ranked opponents and worked his way into the Top 10 by the year’s end. Sinner is amongst the heaviest hitters on tour and the quick courts at Melbourne Park should aid his game beautifully as he aims to make it past the second round for the first time at the AO.
The 22-year-old Canadian is another young gun who has threatened in recent years without firing too much of a blow. Although he didn’t win a title in 2021, Shapovalov showed what he is capable of by reaching the semifinals at Wimbledon where he fell to eventual champion Novak Djokovic in three tight sets. Many would argue that the Canadian probably should have won that match but his inexperience in the big moments cost him. With another year of maturity underneath him, Melbourne could be the launchpad to catapult him further up the tree.
Ranked at No. 41 in the world, Korda is more of an outsider than the previous two players mentioned. Yet, the 21-year-old American made a massive leap in 2021 to win his first ATP title after toiling away on the Challenger circuit in previous years. The son of 1998 Australian Open champion Petr, Korda displays a sense of maturity and confidence beyond his years. Will be looking to build on his 31 (win) - 18 (loss) 2021 season by getting off to a good start in Melbourne.
Sakkari had an outstanding 2021 that saw her leap from No. 22 to No. 6 in the WTA rankings following Grand Slam semifinal appearances at Roland Garros and the US Open where she lost out to both eventual winners. The Greek had a good run at the WTA Finals in Guadalajara where she made the semis after two group stage wins each over Aryna Sabalenka and Iga Swiatek. With a good ending to 2021 and basically a home crowd behind her at Melbourne, anything is possible for the 26-year-old.
The Spaniard was everywhere in 2021, playing the most tournaments out of any other player in the Top 20. Badosa was rewarded for all of her hard work after going 43-17 for the season and climbing to No. 8 in the WTA rankings. The 24-year-old made two Grand Slam quarter-final appearances and won two titles in 2021, one of them notably being the prestigious Indian Wells where she overcame Victoria Azarenka in the final. Australian fans will remember Badosa for making suggestions about hotel quarantine before the 2021 Australian Open. Well, expect to see more great tennis and less quarantining in 2022 from Badosa.
It would seem to many that Gauff has been around for a while now but the American still can’t legally drive in Australia if she wanted to. The teenager has already built an impressive resume and will have a full trophy cabinet by the time she’s done. Gauff went for an impressive 36-16 record in 2021 that included one title and a quarterfinal appearance at Roland Garros. While still only young, a good month in Melbourne could catapult Gauff into the upper echelon of the women’s game.