As the dust settles on the 2023 Grand Slam season, the opportunity arises to reflect on some of the best moments from tennis’ biggest tournaments.
Whether in the form of epic matches, stunning comebacks, or fairy-tale runs, the four events have provided tennis fans with some unforgettable occasions over the last nine months.
Coco finally conquers
Where better to start than the US Open, which concluded just a few weeks ago?
The rise of Coco Gauff is one of the most remarkable stories in modern tennis.
Since bursting onto the scene at Wimbledon 2019, where she defeated five-time champion Venus Williams in the first round at the age of just 15, Gauff has been touted as a future superstar of the sport.
Her rise since that time has been steady, although hardly straightforward, as the American has come to grips with the brutal nature of professional tennis across the course of a season.
Reaching the Roland Garros final last year verified her credentials at the peak of the sport, yet she still seemed a few paces behind some of her competitors.
Gauff though dispelled any lingering doubts about her level over the North American Summer, lifting titles in Washington and Cincinnati before claiming her first grand slam crown in New York.
Wins against former slam champs Caroline Wozniacki and Jelena Ostapenko enroute to the title were impressive, but to come from behind in the final, against the best player of the year and Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka, solidified Gauff’s position at the top of the sport.
The pressure and expectation placed on someone so young for so many years is difficult to comprehend.
For Gauff to climb the mountain at her home slam, whilst showing the world her maturity and admirable character, was a feel-good story to wrap up the slam season.
That final and the next big rivalry
Novak Djokovic yet again showed his dominance in 2023, taking home three of the four grand slam titles.
His supremacy, particularly on hard courts, is almost beyond question, even with a whole new generation of talent attempting to dethrone him. Almost.
Carlos Alcaraz was hardly the favourite going into the Wimbledon final against Djokovic, with grass being the surface on which the Spaniard was least proven, whilst the Serb had surpassed a decade since his previous defeat on the famous Centre Court.
The battle which ensued was an epic.
Clocking in at almost five hours when all was said and done, Alcaraz prevailed in a monumental back-and-forth tussle to claim his first Wimbledon crown.
Whilst not the first meeting between the pair, their Wimbledon final left nobody in any doubt that Alcaraz and Djokovic would meet again on the biggest of stages.
By virtue of his victory, Alcaraz proved to be the only person capable of stopping Djokovic in 2023.
Having already since played out another classic in Cincinnati, the world will be watching when Djokovic next meets Alcaraz in grand slam tennis.
Mothers returning to professional tennis after giving birth is not a new phenomenon, yet 2023 has seen some high profile examples of players exceeding all expectations in shockingly short time frames.
Elina Svitolina is perhaps the most impressive of them all.
The Ukrainian returned to the WTA Tour in April, just five months after giving birth.
In May and June, Svitolina featured at Roland Garros, where she extraordinarily made a run all the way to the quarterfinals.
Svitolina not only repeated the feat at Wimbledon by reaching the last eight, but beat world number one Iga Swiatek in the quarterfinals to reach the semis, where her run was finally ended by eventual champion Marketa Vondrousova.
Caroline Wozniacki was similarly efficient in her return to tennis having not played since the 2020 Australian Open.
The Dane played just three matches prior to arriving in New York, where she overcame Petra Kvitova and (fellow comeback player) Jennifer Brady to reach the fourth round.
Wozniacki too required the eventual champion to stop her run, but to reach the second week playing in her first slam for almost four years is a remarkable achievement.
Marketa Vondrousova and Karolina Muchova have made comebacks of their own to achieve slam success in 2023, albeit from the more conventional setbacks of injuries and surgeries.
The Czech players ended 2022 ranked 99 and 149 respectively, yet Vondrousova has gone on to win Wimbledon, whilst Muchova reached the final of Roland Garros and the semi-finals of the US Open.
Late-night Andy at the AO
Looking back to the start of the year, Andy Murray’s matches at this year’s Australian Open were some of the most memorable of his decorated career.
First against Matteo Berretini, then Thanasi Kokkinakis, the veteran Scot was taken deep into a fifth set in consecutive matches, yet somehow prevailed in each of them.
The match against Kokkinakis was particularly incredible, as Murray came back from two sets down to clinch the win 7-5 in the fifth, with the clock having moved past 4am in Melbourne.
The matches exemplified the fighting spirit which has made the former world number one so successful and beloved throughout his career.
On the topic of drama at the Australian Open, a special mention also to the outrageous fifth-set tiebreaker between Andrey Rublev and Holger Rune, which came down to a decisive net cord on match point for Rublev to get over the line.
Sabalenka (mostly) flourishes
For most of her career, results at the slams have been the main impediment to Aryna Sabalenka’s success.
The Belarusian failed to get past the fourth round in singles at any slam event until Wimbledon 2021, and even ahead of the current season had still not played in a final despite consistent success elsewhere on the tour.
Sabalenka though finally found her groove at the biggest events, proving to be the most consistent slam performer this season by reaching at least the semi-finals at each event, for which she has been rewarded with the world number one ranking.
Most notably, Sabalenka’s victory at the Australian Open in January was the fulfilment of a long-held potential and has seemingly enabled her to evolve beyond her previous performance hiccups.
Well, mostly at least.
Despite all of her success, one cannot help but think Sabalenka should have more to show for her excellent season at the slams.
The defeat to Karolina Muchova in the Roland Garros semi-finals from 5-2 up in the third set remains difficult to comprehend, whilst Sabalenka also led Ons Jabeur by a set and a break in their Wimbledon semi-final, plus took the opening set in her US Open final defeat to Coco Gauff.
The world number one deserves huge credit for finally breaking through at each event.
However, Sabalenka is clearly capable of achieving even more and will be hungry to take further strides forward in 2024.
Aussies double home success
Last year, the run of Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis at the Australian Open all the way to the men’s doubles title captured the nation’s imagination.
The success came from nowhere and seemed to be a once-in-a-generation Cinderella story.
Then came Rinky Hijikata and Jason Kubler.
Two lesser-known Aussies, also granted entry into the draw via wildcard, stunned the tennis world by going on the tournament run of their lives back in January.
The pair saved match point on their way to grand slam glory, storming past top seeds Wesley Koolhof and Neal Skupski in the quarterfinals, before besting Hugo Nys and Jan Zielinski in the final.
The result kickstarted a career-best year for Hijikata, who reached the fourth round in singles at Flushing Meadows a few weeks ago.
But the doubles result at the Australian Open proved yet again to be an ideal way to begin the grand slam season, whetting plenty of appetites for what was to come.
With the 2024 Australian Open just a few months away, could a third consecutive Aussie doubles success be on the cards?