The 2023 men’s tennis calendar certainly had fans anticipating big things, with fresh, young blood threatening to disrupt the status quo and upset the tennis hierarchy by challenging the top players. With the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open running throughout the year on three different surfaces, some players justified their ambitions of deep runs and slam victories, marked with strong performances, whilst others fell victim to shock losses in a mixed year for tennis’ elite. Below I discuss the winners and losers on tennis’ biggest stages in 2023:
Winner: Novak Djokovic
The biggest winner beyond any doubt, on the men’s tour this year in terms of slam performance. Djokovic’s imperious displays on the court resulted in three slam wins, with only Alcaraz’s five-set Wimbledon victory preventing Novak from achieving the elusive calendar slam. His supremacy was underlined by total domination in the other three finals, where he won 9-0 in sets against three opponents who have been touted as a new generation of champions. Even at the staggering age of thirty-six, Novak is not to be usurped and his trademark return game and mental strength have enabled him to claim a record-breaking 24th men’s singles slam, a record he has made little secret of wanting to hold, with his command showing little sign of ceasing.
Winner: Carlos Alcaraz
The only man who stood between Djokovic and a calendar slam this year and he is the potential successor to inherit the throne. Whilst only attaining one slam could be cynically regarded as an underachievement for Carlos, the numbers don’t tell the full story. Skipping the Australian due to injury before being swept aside by Novak in the semis at Roland Garros in a cramp-afflicted match, the 20-year-old admitted to nerves affecting him physically and mentally, a reminder of his rawness and inexperience at this level despite the hype. Despite this, success beckoned at Wimbledon; unfazed by the ghosts of Roland Garros, he held his nerve to overcome Djokovic in a thrilling five-setter, winning his second major title. Whilst he failed to defend his US title, a semi-final loss to an impressive Medvedev shouldn’t discredit his year at all and next year promises even greater things for Alcaraz.
Winner: Ben Shelton
Shelton has been the dark horse of the men’s tour, both winning plaudits and drawing criticismfor his performances and certainly creating a media frenzy. A monstrous serve combined with an effective volley game and heavy groundstrokes catapulted him to the quarters at the Australian Open, with Alcaraz stating after their match later in August that Shelton hit the ball harder than anybody he had played against. Arguably, a lack of exposure at the elite level contributed to early-round exits at the French Open and Wimbledon before Shelton capped off the year on hard courts again at his home slam. He endured a seriously difficult run, facing four former slam semi-finalists before coming up against Novak in the semis, who seemed to take exception with Shelton’s vigorous fist pumps and efforts to rouse both the crowd and himself. Djokovic made his sentiments clear at the end of the match when he mocked Shelton’s celebration, a ‘dialled-in’ phone gesture which Novak imitated, offering a frosty handshake. Nevertheless, a stellar year from Shelton yielded two runs to the quarters at minimum in his first full year on tour, a seriously impressive introduction.
Loser: Casper Ruud
It may be a potentially controversial take to suggest that Ruud has had a bad year, especially considering that he reached the French Open final, anddispatched formidable opponents such as Rune and Zverev en route. Although he was seen off by Novak comfortably, his run here promised a fruitful year. However, Ruud fell in the second round of the other three slams to opponents that should have been beaten by a player of his rank and calibre. His loss of form has been startling and he has struggled to find consistency throughout the year, resulting in very early-round exits, with players exposing severe vulnerabilities in his game. Ruud admitted that he needed to play a more aggressive style and hopefully adopting one will enable him to bounce back and have a more successful 2024 season.
Loser: Felix Auger Aliassime
It’s been a dire year for Felix at the slams, who suffered similar issues to Ruud –a severe lack of form and consistency. The twenty-three-year-old has been heralded for years as a possible successor who couldwin slams and lead the next generation, with his potential underlined by the addition of Toni Nadal, Rafa’s uncle and coach, to his coaching team last year. This faith was renewed by a strong 2022 season, where he won four titles and became just the third man to take Nadal to five sets at Roland Garros, promising a rewarding 2023. A fourth-round exit in Australia this year was an adequate result, albeit to a player on paper he should have beaten, but this was followed up by three successive first-round losses in the other slams, interspersed with other early round defeats in lower-level tournaments, suggestive of mentality issues too. A loss for him on his birthday at his home tournament to a much lower-ranked player in August epitomised his season and a break in the slams may be beneficial for helping him reset mentally.
Loser: Jannik Sinner
Branding Sinner a loser in the context of the grand slams this year is extremely harsh on the one hand; after all, a semi-final and two fourth-round runs are pretty similar results to Shelton, whose year has been a success. However, the relative ambitions of the players act as a key factor, and by Sinner’s account, it has probably been a somewhat underwhelming year for him. Sinner has been twinned with Alcaraz as the other potential heir to the throne once the older generation retires, with their rivalry compared to Federer and Nadal’s. However, whilst Alcaraz won his second slam, Sinner’s inability to make it count in the big moments has hindered his progress, underlined by his Wimbledon semi-final straight-set loss to Novak, whom Alcaraz overcame in the final. Sinner only bettered one slam result from last year, underperforming in the rest, leaving the door ajar for even newer talent like Rune to establish themselves as a stronger prospect. He is still anobvious candidate for future slams, but at present Sinner needs to take it a step further to match Alcaraz’s level and prevent him from getting left behind.
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