As the opening Grand Slam of the season, the Australian Open gives us a first glance as to which players have improved during the break and who might be falling behind the curve.
With Świątek, Jabeur, Nadal, and Medvedev all eliminated in the early rounds, there is much to be discussed about top players' performances and who shined through in their absence.
The Australian Open is also a hotbed for new products, and brands have gone all out for 2023! Let's take a look at some of the hottest players and new gear at this year's AO.
Novak Djokovic - Asics Court FF 3 Novak
Novak Djokovic is back. After his experience down under last season, nobody knew if tennis' most controversial G.O.A.T. would play in Australia again. But Djokovic is a fierce competitor and has an insatiable hunger to win the most slams ever, so of course, he made his much-anticipated return.
He was welcomed back as a hero and played like one throughout the tournament.
He eased past Carballés Baena before dropping a set to Enzo Couacaud in the second round. He then made light work of Grigor Dimitrov before giving de Minaur, Rublev and Paul brutal tennis lessons, outscoring them 54 games to 20.
Djokovic has been the toughest test of the big three — sniffles as it's only the big two now — for the last several years, but somehow seems to get better with each tournament. His timing, depth, and ability to turn points in his favor from anywhere on the court are mind-boggling. He hasn't lost in an individual event since Roland Garros against Nadal…
Djokovic has seamlessly transitioned to the new Asics Court FF 3. As the face of the line and a big part of its development, it's no surprise that he is already wearing the brand-new model, and it won't have been a difficult shoe to get used to with Asics going for a slight redesign this time around.
He's described his new Court FF as "the perfect shoe," which makes total sense. It's built for the most aggressive movers, with the outsole and upper reacting almost instantly to quick lateral cuts and big changes of direction. The shoe is also incredibly consistent through the slide, ideal for Djokovic's signature lunges between both ends of the court.
Check out our full review here.
Khachanov and Rublev - Vapor ele-PRO…?
Karen Khachanov breezed past his opponents on his way to the semifinal in Australia. His toughest test came in an electric early morning fourth set tiebreak against Frances Tiafoe, where Khachanov saved five set points in a row before winning the breaker 11-9. Against Korda in the quarters, he was up two sets to love, and 3-0 in the third before the American had to retire from injury. He lost to a red hot Tsitsipas in the semis, but has announced himself as a serious contender for the rest of the season.
Andrey Rublev had it a little more difficult. He beat Thiem, Ruusuvuori, and Evans before his quarterfinal against Holger Rune. The two could not be separated after four sets and gave us an absolute roller coaster of a fifth. Rublev went down a break early, but Rune failed to serve it out at 5-3, and they were forced into a super tiebreak. Rublev lost the first five points, which, in a normal tiebreak, would have probably meant curtains, but he managed to claw his way back before going up two match points at 9-7. Rune saved the second with an astonishing backhand pass that has to be "point of the tournament." After the changeover, Rublev finished off the match with one of the luckiest let courts you'll ever see.
He looked helpless against the Game of Thrones-sized wall, Novak Djokovic, in the semifinal, but you can't really feel shame for losing to him right now.
Apart from reaching the last four, what makes Khachanov and Rublev so interesting? Well, they're giving us some insight into what the pros think regarding the new Nike Vapor line.
The previous NXT and Pro were a hot topic in the tennis community, with many of us preferring the more comfortable takedown to the uber-technical flagship. That may be the case again. Professional players, in particular, value that initial step in comfort so highly because of how often they need to switch their shoes.
You guessed it, those aren't Vapor 11s on Khachanov and Rublev, but rather, Nike Vapor Pro 2s. It could be the familiarity of the Pro, or it could be that we're in for another generation of Nike Vapor controversy. Stay tuned.
Rybakina and Paul - A new VCORE in each final?
It was blacked out for much of its development, but the new VCORE's paint job shined bright under the lights at the Australian Open. Yonex is surely delighted that the new racket from their flagship spin line was featured all the way through the men's semifinals and the women's final. With Elena Rybakina swinging the VCORE 100 and Tommy Paul most likely playing with the VCORE 98, they almost had a marketing dream final in the new frame's first major tournament. Could it be that it's just that good?
After winning Wimbledon, Rybakina finished 2022 a little hit or miss. Inconsistency is normal for someone so young, but her talent is there for all to see. She played lights out in Australia, only dropping one set to Danielle Collins on her way to the final. She handily beat world number 1, Iga Świątek, in the fourth round going up a break early in the first and closing it out in style at 5-4. The second set was tougher as she went down 3-0 to the triple grand slam winner but won six out of the next seven games in an impressive display of force. After beating Azarenka in the semis, she lost to Sabalenka in the final but she's picking up serious form at the start of 2023.
Tommy Paul had a fantastic tournament. It was so great, that I can't really even say he lost, because he didn't lose to a normal human. In fact all those guys that lost to Djokovic, don't worry, he is quite literally unbeatable right now. Ok, Paul didn't have the hardest run to the semifinal, but took care of a fearless rocket-launcher in Ben Shelton after a tough, four-set match.
Paul has also been a gear nerd's dream during this tournament. First off, he pulled up to Australia swinging a brand new racket. Switching from the Wilson Blade 98, to the (most probably) Yonex VCORE 98 is not a seamless transition, but it seems to have elevated Paul's game to new heights.
Felix Auger-Aliassime - Pure Aero 98
It's been a tough Australian Open for our Canadians, with most going out in the first two rounds. It's also been brutal for the new Netflix series "Break Point," with all but one of the first season's featured players falling before the round of 16. That's a curse you won't want to be a part of for 2023…
Felix Auger-Aliassime is the only player who made it to the last 16 from that pool of contestants but lost to Jiri Lehecka in the same round. He fought hard the whole tournament, playing 17 sets in four matches, but it wasn't to be for Felix. It's hard to believe that he is only 22 years old; he's showing that killer mentality behind all the talent after winning three tournaments in a row at the tail end of 2022.
Felix has been loyal to Babolat 98 square inch head sizes throughout his career, first playing with the Pure Strike 16 x 19 and then making the switch to an older version of the Aero VS. Oddly enough, Babolat had him endorsing the regular Aero 100 for a while, but it was pretty obvious he was using a smaller head size. They wisened up for the 2023 Aero line, and now Felix is rocking the soon-to-be-released Pure Aero 98. It's a racket that makes a ton of sense for his big spin game, but the smaller head size also helps control all that natural power. Check out our in-depth review of the frame.
The tour leaves the southern hemisphere with plenty of performances to talk about and product to test out. It's bound to be a fantastic 2023 season, and we can't wait to watch it unfold!
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