The tennis off-season seems shorter than ever this year with just a few weeks separating the final of the 2021 Davis Cup and the start of preparations for the 2022 Australian Open.
Some of the world’s top players, including Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal, will be back on court at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi this week before they travel to Australia. The warm-up events for the Australian Open then start early in the new year before the first Grand Slam of 2022 gets under way in Melbourne on January 17.
With so little time to rest and recover, which players need to get the most out of the next month?
French Open: Who has the best draw? Who are the dark horses?
Rest has probably not been a word that Raducanu has heard much recently.
The British No. 1 did manage a short holiday after the conclusion of the WTA season, but was back on the court in late November competing at the Champions Tennis event at the Royal Albert Hall. She was due to play in Abu Dhabi on Thursday at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship before testing positive for Covid-19.
With a new coach in her corner, expectations for Raducanu are high heading into the new season. Torben Beltz seems to fit the bill for what Raducanu was looking for in a coach and will certainly bring plenty of experience to the team. But how much can they do together over the next month as Raducanu prepares to play at the Australian Open for the first time?
- Raducanu tests positive for Covid-19
- Corretja concerned about Nadal fitness
- Thiem out of Mubadala Championship
Raducanu showed during her shock US Open win that she has the game and the temperament to beat the best in the world, and there is still plenty of room for improvement. That was evident over the last few months of the season as she won two of her five matches on the WTA Tour.
There will be plenty of attention on her in Melbourne to see how she fares and what changes, if any, she has made over the off-season.
This is a huge off-season for Nadal.
He hasn’t played since August due to a foot injury and there have to be doubts over whether he can return to the top of the game again. While he won two titles in 2021 and is still ranked No 6 in the world, he came up short at some big moments and now looks to be a level below Novak Djokovic.
He has added to his coaching team over the off-season with the hiring of former doubles partner Marc Lopez, who joins Carlos Moya and Francis Roig in Nadal's corner. The last time that Nadal added a new coach was in 2017 when he won the French Open, US Open and finished as year-end No 1.
‘Keep the points under five shots!’ - The time Nadal coached Federer at Laver Cup
He will be hoping the hiring of Lopez is just as impactful, but Nadal needs to be 100 per cent healthy if he is going to be a force again.
"When he moves well and is well supported to hit his backhand and arrives perfectly to play with his parallel forehand and dominate, Rafa is almost impossible to beat," two-time Grand Slam finalist Alex Corretja told Eurosport.
"The problem is how he gets to that ball so he can be well supported and hit well. That extra half second that he needs today is what worries me the most."
There’s no disguising that 2021 was a disappointing season for Thiem.
Expectations were high heading into the year that he could build on his 2021 US Open victory and challenge for more major titles. However, he has almost been forgotten about as Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev have taken up the charge to challenge Novak Djokovic.
His form was off to start the season and injury issues did not help. He said in March that he needed to “reset” but a wrist injury in the summer saw him shut down for the rest of the year.
He was set to return at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi but pulled out of the event as he does not believe he is "ready to compete at the highest level".
When will Thiem be competing at the top table again? He hasn't really shown his very best form since his US Open win and clearly has some work ahead of him. “It's been a bad year, but I hope that another six or seven good years will follow,” he said earlier this month month.
Like Nadal, Thiem needs to get back to full health and playing his best tennis if he is going to challenge for more major titles.
'He's not as motivated' - Wilander reacts to 'weird' Thiem defeat
It’s hard to know how Osaka is shaping up ahead of the new season.
The four-time Grand Slam champion hasn’t played since September after taking a break to prioritise her mental health, and her form before then was not at a high level.
She is expected to defend her Australian Open title, though, and will prepare for the tournament by playing at the Melbourne Summer Set, along with Raducanu and Simona Halep.
Osaka has not given too much away about her return on social media. In November she posted a photo on Instagram of her on a court with the caption “kinda rusty but feels good to be back” and she recently shared some videos of her hitting balls, captioned with “lol I never post training vids”.
Melbourne feels like the ideal place for Osaka to refocus fully on tennis. She has won two of the last three Australian Opens and may enjoy being under less of a spotlight than at some of the other majors.
If she has had a strong off-season then she will be a contender to win the first major of the year – and may kick on from there and soar up the rankings again.
- - -
Stream the 2022 Australian Open live and on-demand on discovery+
Raducanu, Swiatek to face qualifiers, Osaka gets tough opening clash
Share this article