The first week of the 2022 tennis season is in the book.
It was a week largely dominated by what happened off the court following Novak Djokovic’s arrival in Australia, but on the court there were six tournaments played, some surprise champions, some familiar champions, some comeback stories, and some surging players.
With the 2022 Australian Open set to start on January 17, we pick out five top takeaways from the last week…
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Nadal back in the conversation

It was put to Rafael Nadal’s coach Carlos Moya last week that when most players come back from injury they take time to get back into the groove. Moya said he was “confident” that wouldn’t happen with Nadal after five months out due to a foot problem – and he was right.
Nadal started his season in perfect fashion, winning the Melbourne Summer Set title without dropping a set, and becoming the first male player in the Open Era to win at least one title in 19 different seasons, surpassing Roger Federer and Andre Agassi (both 18).
Nadal showed little sign of rustiness in his three matches, despite the long injury lay-off and testing positive for Covid-19 recently, and came through in some clutch moments in the final against Maxime Cressy.
Never usually one to play up his own achievements, it meant something for Nadal to say that he was at least "quite satisfied" with the way he has returned to tennis.
“There have been some very challenging moments, and I have been working very hard even in the very tough moments. I will never say I deserve this, because I think a lot of people deserve, but I really worked hard, so I am quite satisfied the way that I approached all these very challenging months in terms of my attitude, in terms of the positive spirit and in terms of passion to try to be back."
While the competition at the Australian Open next week will be a different level, Nadal has at least served reminder that he should be in the conversation for potential champions.

Barty has perfect set-up

If Nadal is among the conversation on the men’s side at the Australian Open, then Ashleigh Barty is leading the conversation on the women’s side.
The world No 1 looks as well-placed as ever to triumph at her home Grand Slam, having continued where she left off last year by sweeping the singles and doubles at the Adelaide International.
Barty beat the fifth, sixth and seventh seeds on her way to victory, improving her record against top-20 players to 17-1 from her last 18 matches.
Barty was not getting away after the tournament – “we look forward, we do what we can, then we see how we go” – but the WTA player of the season in 2021 already looks as though she will be the player to beat again this year.

Match fitness key for Osaka

Naomi Osaka’s return to the tour may not have ended in her lifting a trophy, but she showed some encouraging signs across her three matches in Melbourne.
Osaka’s shot-making in her quarter-final win over Andrea Petkovic was particularly impressive. After blasting her way through the first set she continued to wow with some of her winners in a harder-fought second set. The former world No 1 finished with 33 winners to 15 unforced errors.
If Osaka can maintain that high level for the rest of the month there is little doubt she will be a strong contender to defend her Australian Open title; but can she?

'As good as it gets' - The best of champion Osaka at 2021 Australian Open

She withdrew from her semi-final match as she said her body got a “shock” after playing again following four months off, and match fitness could be a concern heading into the first Grand Slam of the year.
But if she can get through the first few rounds without too much trouble then Osaka, who has won 22 of her last 23 matches in Melbourne stretching back to 2019, will be one to watch.

Comeback kids

Last year was not great for Simona Halep, Gael Monfils or Amanda Anisimova.
All three struggled for form and/or injuries and combined to reach zero tour-level finals. But one week into the 2022 season, all three have a title to their name.
Halep feels like she has a point to prove, having seen her top-10 streak of 373 weeks come to an end in August. Now ranked No 20 in the world, Halep hinted in a recent interview that retirement had crossed her mind, but after a strong off-season she is determined to try and get back to the top again. In the last four years she’s made the final, semi-finals and quarter-finals of the Australian Open and another deep run cannot be ruled out.

Simona Halep

Image credit: Getty Images

It’s unlikely that Monfils will go as deep as Halep, given he’s only ever made it past the fourth round once, but it was fantastic to see him smiling again in Adelaide.
One of the great entertainers on the ATP Tour, the Covid-19 pandemic seemed to suck some of the joy out of Monfils over the last year. He had a horrible run from September 2020 to May 2021 where he didn’t win a match and tearfully asked reporters at last year’s Australian Open to show him “mercy” in a post-match press conference.
After starting the new year on the right foot with his first title since February 2020 he paid tribute to new wife Elina Svitolina.
“Last year was very tough for me. I almost, let’s not say want to quit, but lost my faith in tennis. But Elina was there. Thank you, Elina, thank you for everything.”
It was just as pleasing to see former world No 21 Anisimova back in the winners’ circle.
Anisimova looked to have a very bright future after making the fourth round of the 2019 Australian Open and semi-finals of the French Open as a 17-year-old. But her career progression was thrown off course by the death of her father later that year.
Her victory in Melbourne was a reminder that Anisimova still has all the qualities to compete with the best. She possesses a powerful game and is one of the cleanest hitters on the WTA Tour. Now working with Halep’s former coach Darren Cahill, if she can hit her highest level again she could be a force in 2022.

Two to watch

Last year it was Aslan Karatsev who was the surprise package on the ATP Tour at the start of the season; could Roman Safiullin and Maxime Cressy be two to keep an eye on this season?
Safiullin was described as the new “secret weapon” of the Russian team after playing a key role in their run to the semi-finals of the ATP Cup. World No 2 Daniil Medvedev has played with Safiullin since they were juniors and was full of praise for his compatriot, who won the Australian Open boys’ singles title in 2015.
“I first thought he was super tough to beat in juniors. I don't think we ever played in professionals. But when I knew that Roman was in my draw in juniors, I was shaking.”

Russia's Daniil Medvedev (R) and Roman Safiullin celebrate after winning their Group B men's doubles tennis match against Italy's Matteo Berrettini and Jannik Sinner at the 2022 ATP Cup in Sydney on January 6, 2022

Image credit: Getty Images

Safiullin’s standout result last year was beating Andy Murray in Rennes.
Cressy marked himself as a potential breakthrough player by making the final of the Melbourne Summer Set. The big-serving American might not have beaten Nadal, but certainly impressed the 20-time Grand Slam champion.
“I think he has a good potential," Nadal said of Cressy. "He's going to be a very uncomfortable player for every opponent, for the top opponents, for the lower ranking opponents.
"I think he's coming from the university if I'm not wrong, so he's young on the tour, so he has room to improve. I mean, he went very fast up on the ranking. Probably when somebody does his improvement with very short period of time, it's because his level is much higher than what his ranking says today."
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