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The Australian Open and what to know: Earlier start. Netflix curse? Osaka's back. Nadal's not


Iga Swiatek seemed to capture the general sentiment of Australian Open players toward the tournament's decision to begin on a Sunday instead of a Monday, creating a 15-day event.

"It doesn’t really matter," the top-seeded Swiatek said at Melbourne Park.

Certainly not to her: Swiatek's half of the women's draw won't start until Monday, anyway. But there are plenty of players — including defending champions Novak Djokovic and Aryna Sabalenka — who were picked to compete on Day 1, 24 hours earlier than usual.

That's been the schedule at Roland Garros for more than 15 years; the U.S. Open and Wimbledon have stuck to the traditional Monday opening.

Back when the French Open first shifted to a Sunday start, stars such as Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova were hardly thrilled about being on court that quickly.

“I asked if I could play later. The answer was, ’You’re playing Sunday, fourth match,” Sharapova said at the time. “How did it make me feel? Well, it doesn’t make you feel great when you know that the French federation, all they’re thinking about is selling tickets, making money and about their players. I mean, can’t be too happy about that."

Swiatek's take?

“At the end, it’s just the first day, then the tournament goes back to normal after these Sunday matches,” she said. “People have two days off, then it goes back to normal.”

Another ‘Netflix curse’?

Six episodes of Season 2 of the tennis docuseries “Break Point” were released this week, so players and fans alike might be wondering whether there could be another "Netflix curse" in the offing at the Australian Open.

A year ago, when the first five episodes of Season 1 came out shortly before play began at Melbourne Park, none of the 10 players featured prominently across those shows made it past the fourth round of singles at the tournament. Three pulled out of the field with an injury; a half-dozen lost in the first or second round.

The protagonists this time include Jessica Pegula, Alexander Zverev, Holger Rune, Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe, Tommy Paul and Coco Gauff, who won the U.S. Open last September for her first Grand Slam title.

“It really feels like so long ago,” said Gauff, a 19-year-old American. “I kind of forget it happened.”

Welcome back to Osaka, Raducanu, Kerber and more

Whether they’re returning to the Australian Open after an absence or participating in any Grand Slam tournament for the first time in a while, there are all sorts of comebacks afoot at Melbourne Park.

The list reads like a real Who’s Who of tennis: Naomi Osaka, Angelique Kerber, Caroline Wozniacki, Marin Cilic, Amanda Anisimova, Milos Raonic, Emma Raducanu and so on.

Some won’t get a chance to ease their way back into things. Four-time major champion Osaka, for example, goes up in the first round against 16th-seeded Caroline Garcia, who reached the U.S. Open semifinals and won the WTA Finals in 2022. Raonic, the runner-up at Wimbledon in 2016, takes on Alex de Minaur, the Australian who made his Top 10 debut in the ATP rankings this week.

And Kerber, who beat Serena Williams in the 2016 final at Melbourne Park for the first of her three Grand Slam trophies, meets 2022 runner-up Danielle Collins, with the winner possibly facing Swiatek next. Kerber had a baby in 2023 and was away from the tour for about 1 1/2 years; she played her first matches as a mom at the United Cup this month.

“Why (am I) coming back? I think this is the question a lot of people are asking me. I mean, it is because I love the sport. I love to play tennis. I already saw it last week with a lot of emotions again, a lot of dramas, up and downs, match points down. This is what I was missing — being on the court, seeing the fans and having the emotions out there,” Kerber said. “I have still the fire.”

Rafael Nadal's Grand Slam return is on hold

The many comebacks in Melbourne was expected to include that of Rafael Nadal, the 22-time Grand Slam champion who injured his hip flexor during a second-round loss a year ago in Australia, eventually needed surgery and ended up missing the rest of 2023.

Nadal did compete again in January, but only for three matches, before tearing a muscle near his hip at the Brisbane International and withdrawing from the Australian Open.


AP Sports Writer John Pye in Melbourne, Australia, contributed to this report.


Howard Fendrich has been the AP’s tennis writer since 2002. Find his stories here: https://apnews.com/author/howard-fendrich


AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis