12 January 2024 Tweet
Eurosport tennis expert and seven-time Grand Slam champion Mats Wilander previews the 2024 Australian Open.
Comments on Jannik Sinner’s preparation for the Australian Open:
It’s always the most interesting Slam as players have all had a break, you don’t know who has had a great off-season, what kind of confidence did they carry from last season? Players like Jannik Sinner had a great end to the year but does that carry through? We knew that his game was there. We knew that he is always improving something small here and there. Now he's improved something big. The serve in the men's and the women's game has become one of the most important shots in the game again. Jannik Sinner improved his serve, and that's one of the hardest shots to improve, and he improved his serve so much. He is suddenly as dangerous as Alexander Zverev, with a big serve like Daniil Medvedev with the big serve. He now has that same weapon. We know how well he hits the ball. We know how well he competes. We know how well he moves, but he didn't serve that well, and now he does.
He’s such a great player today. He’s had great Grand Slam tournaments and could’ve won the US Open when he had match point against Carlos Alcaraz. Carlos Alcaraz needs to improve his serve, and when he does, then suddenly, he's going to be nearly impossible to beat.
Novak Djokovic being the favourite:
Novak Djokovic – is he able to keep Alcaraz, Rune and Sinner away from beating him in the biggest tournaments? It will say something about Novak and the younger generation. They are so good, so early today. That’s what tennis is to me now. I hardly understand their game because they’re so good. But Novak is still beating these young guys.
Can Djokovic complete a Calendar Slam and how many Slams will he finish on?
Novak has been the closest to doing it. He lost against Medvedev but Novak has the perfect game for all surfaces. I would say that even today, Novak has the best chance of winning the calendar Slam this year. Federer was great but Nadal was a big problem on clay. Novak is the favourite in every Slam he plays now and has been for the last three years. He hasn’t won everything but he has been the big favourite. We have to believe that he can do it this year.
When he tied Nadal at 22, that wasn’t unexpected. To me he will get 27, 28 and maybe even up to 30. He plays better today in finals of tournaments when he has to. He has more options. He doesn’t look old. He looks fresh and young. He still has goals that are day by day. We like to give him numbers and records to break. He says that he’s not counting but he sets his goals day by day – to be better at the end of the day than at the beginning. We’ve never had a tennis player like Novak Djokovic. He may go down as the best athlete in any professional sport we’ve ever seen. He is not finished.
How will the conditions impact the tournament for the favourites?
Novak will likely play five out of seven matches at night where it is cooler and there’s no sun. He has proven he is the one people want to watch. Federer and Nadal often had the same situation. Players like Jannik Sinner will play at 1pm when it’s 40 degrees. The next match he will play at night when it’s 15 degrees then the next day inside because it’s 50 degrees! Jannik needs to adjust his game each time which is difficult. His time has come though and he is up there with the four favourites to win the Australian Open.
On Iga Swiatek:
She cares so much and is getting more experience. She has four Slams but is getting better and better each time I see her. But so are the other players. She is so invested in her tennis, losing the finals of the United Cup in mixed doubles, the fact that she cares so much playing for Poland that she has tears in her eyes, that is why she will be the Australian Open champion. Why she will win Wimbledon one day and why she will win the US Open again. She cares so much and that’s why she will win it. She is hungry to win, everyone is. But she’s hungry to improve and put the work in. She is so keen to want to improve that she has to improve. There is still room for improvement and she will continue to improve. She deserves all the success she has had and more. She is not selfish and wants to share her success with other people, like wanting Poland to win the United Cup. She knows that is the best preparation for her Australian Open too.
The difference today is that we have Sabalenka and Rybakina. They are her biggest threat as they hit the ball so hard. They’re not just a threat against Iga, but against everyone. That style didn’t really exist three years ago. They have both now won and have confidence in themselves. The matches will look a little different as Iga is used to controlling points and dictating. Against these two, she can’t control the point. Against Coco Gauff, she can control it however. Iga will need to understand before the match starts, that she might have to play a lot of defence or be very aggressive. She has to be open to different styles of tennis she has to play. I’m 100% sure that Iga will win another three or four Grand Slam tournaments at least.
What are you looking forward to this season?
What I'm looking forward to most in 2024 is Novak Djokovic? Is he able to keep the Carlos Alcaraz and Holger Rune and Jannik Sinner? Is he able to keep them away from beating him in the biggest tournaments, because it says something about Novak and also it says something about the young generation. They are so good, so early today again. That's what tennis does is to me. They are playing a game that I hardly don't understand. And Novak is playing a game. That I do understand and he's still beating these young guys
How will tennis continue to evolve in future?
The speed, strength and flexibility tennis players have today is absolutely incredible. Bjorn Borg was probably the best, I was a good athlete, but you can’t compare what we did on the court 30, 40 years ago to today. You can't compare what Pete Sampras did 20 years. You cannot compare them to what the guys are doing today. And what the girls are doing. I'm encouraged because I don't know what's going to happen in future.
I think when you look at the athletes of Zverev, Medvedev and Tsitsipas, they're really too tall for tennis. They shouldn't be able to play tennis the way they're playing tennis, but because athletically, they are so strong, quick, flexible, they don't get tired. They're able to take the game to another level again. And that's when I watch Sinner and Alcaraz hit tennis balls. I'm like this is insane. How could you do that with in any sport. I think tennis has taken the biggest steps forwards, the quality is better every year. The confusion starts and ends with Novak Djokovic, how can he keep up with these guys? If you're healthy, if you eat right, if you train right. If you mentally are always thinking ahead. The human being, there are very few things the human being can't do physically and mentally, and I think tennis players are the best proof of that.
Mats Wilander is an expert for Warner Bros. Discovery Sports' coverage of the Australian Open in Europe. Coverage starts on discovery+, Eurosport and Eurosport App from Sunday 14 January.