Novak Djokovic, Juan Martin del Potro return, Dominic Thiem comeback delay - what's next on tennis calendar?
Novak Djokovic, Juan Martin del Potro and Emma Raducanu are set to return to the court in February but there are doubts over Dominic Thiem. Djokovic will be playing for the first time this year in Dubai along with Murray, while Del Potro is set to make his long-awaited return on clay. We look at what's coming up in the month ahead.
'No disrespect to Djokovic but this is about Nadal' - Henman
Having watched Nadal move one ahead in the all-time Grand Slam standing race at the Australian Open, Djokovic is set to return to the tennis court in February.
The world No 1 has not played competitively since the Davis Cup in November, having seen his Australian visa cancelled on public interest grounds.
It remains to be seen if Djokovic’s unwillingness to be vaccinated will cost him a shot at more Grand Slam titles, but for now he will have no issues getting into Dubai. Unlike in Australia, players do not need to be vaccinated against Covid-19 to enter the tournament, while vaccination is not mandatory when travelling to the United Arab Emirates.
Djokovic has regularly competed at the ATP 500 event before and is a five-time champion in Dubai. Only Roger Federer has won it more often, with eight titles to his name.
It will be intriguing to not only see what kind of form Djokovic is in, but also what he has to say about the events in Australia and what it could mean for his career going forward.
Djokovic may have to perform well in Dubai to stay world No 1 as Daniil Medvedev is close behind. Australian Open runner-up Medvedev, who is set to play Rotterdam and Acapulco in February, will be just 400 points behind Djokovic when the points from the 2021 Australian Open drop off in early February.
Del Potro returns, Thiem doubt
While Djokovic heads to the hard courts in Dubai, there is also ATP action on clay coming up.
Former US Open champion Dominic Thiem was set to play at the Cordoba Open, having recovered from a wrist injury that has kept him out since June. However, his comeback has now been delayed further after he suffered a "minor injury" on his knuckles.
"The positive thing is the wrist is perfectly fine, but I'm suffering pain in my hand and also lacking practice, so I have to pull out," said Thiem.
It is not yet clear when Thiem, who has dropped down to No 27 in the ATP rankings, will now return to action.
Juan Martin del Potro has not been seen on a tennis court since June 2019.
Those plans now look to have been confirmed after he received wild cards into both events. It was reported in Argentina that Del Potro was experiencing pain recently, but he now looks set for an emotional return to the court in his home country of Argentina.
Murray heads to Middle East with no coach
The Australian summer was a mixed bag for Andy Murray.
Having lost his first match of the year to world No 76 Facundo Bagnis, Murray’s run to the final in Sydney raised hope that he could win a few matches at the Australian Open. Those hopes were lifted further after an impressive first-round victory over 21st seed Nikoloz Basilashvili, but then quickly extinguished by a straight-sets defeat to qualifier Taro Daniel.
“This is a really important year for me for a number of reasons and I want to perform well in the big events. For me, tonight is not good enough in that respect,” said the former world No 1.
‘Moving in the right direction!’ – Henman backing Murray to bounce back despite Aus Open exit
Murray is set to return in the Middle East, playing in Doha (February 14) and then in Dubai alongside Djokovic. He will do so without coach Jan de Witt in his corner after their trial period came to an end without being renewed.
Murray split with long-time coach Jamie Delgado at the end of 2021 and had a trial spell with Johanna Konta’s former coach Esteban Carril before turning to De Witt. Murray clearly wants to get things right with his next permanent coach to give himself the best chance of hitting top form again.
Raducanu off to Mexico
While there’s no break for the ATP Tour after the Australian Open, there are no WTA events scheduled until February 7.
British No 1 Emma Raducanu will not be back in action until February 21 as she plays in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Raducanu, who was beaten in the second round of the Australian Open, stopped off in Singapore on her way home from Melbourne and was seen hitting with new coach Torben Beltz.
‘A challenging start!’ – Henman says it feels like Raducanu was ‘playing catch up’ this year
She will play again competitively in Guadalajara and then stay in Mexico for the Abierto GNP Seguros in Monterrey the following week. A hop across the border will follow as Raducanu travels to Indian Wells for the second time in her career.
Even though Raducanu only managed one win on her Australian Open debut she still took positives from the tournament.
“I did discover elements of my game I didn’t know I had before, and I can use that going forward. I just know that I’ve got that fight in me, even if I have got like one shot I know that I can pull myself out of deep situations,” she said.
“Because I’m still young, I feel like I can learn a backhand, I can learn some sort of tactics, but it’s quite hard to learn or teach someone that fight and grittiness to hang in there when things are pretty much all against you. So I’m quite proud of that.”
Indian Wells and Miami on the horizon
Having been postponed in 2020 and moved to autumn last year, Indian Wells, sometimes viewed as the 'fifth Grand Slam' because of its prestige, is back in its traditional March spot this year.
Cameron Norrie and Paula Badosa will be the defending champions and it is expected that all the top men’s and women’s players will be in attendance for the ATP and WTA 1000 event.
Indian Wells starts on March 9 and is followed by the Miami Open.