Grand Slam tennis is officially underway in 2022, as the tennis world has turned its attention to Melbourne for the return of the Australian Open. The star-studded player field is out to make a name for themselves in the new year, as the withdrawal of three-time defending men’s singles champion and nine-time overall winner Novak Djokovic dominated the pre-tournament headlines. That being said, all eyes have now turned to the on-court action, as the early rounds have officially begun in Australia.
It’s no surprise that this year’s player field is full of former BNP Paribas Open standouts who will soon be descending on Tennis Paradise and making their way to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in March. As we’ve seen in years prior, many of the players who stake their claim in the desert go on to repeat their success in calendar-adjacent Grand Slams, such as the tournament down under.
Let’s take a deep dive into the top Indian Wells-centric players and storylines to watch during the action at Melbourne Park over the next two weeks:
THE RETURN OF RAFA
After being kept out of the 2021 BNP Paribas Open with a foot injury, three-time Indian Wells Champion Rafael Nadal is back in action looking to win his 21st overall Grand Slam title and gain momentum before the 2022 tournament in March. Rafa missed the last two Grand Slams after being stunned in the 2021 French Open semifinals, but now has a golden chance to pull ahead of rivals Djokovic and Roger Federer in the all-time Grand Slam titles leaderboard with a trophy-lifting performance in Melbourne.
Can the “King of Clay” take his talents to the hardcourt and secure his second-ever Australian Open crown? If he can, he would be the solo leader in Grand Slam titles heading into Tennis Paradise and primed for one of the most impressive season starts throughout his entire career.
OSAKA MOUNTS A TITLE DEFENSE
2018 BNP Paribas Open champion Naomi Osaka is no stranger to the spotlight in Australia. The 24-year-old Japanese superstar has already won the Australian Open title twice and will look to defend her 2021 AO crown in familiar territory. Osaka enters the tournament as just the No. 14 seed after she stumbled at the 2021 US Open, but is still undoubtedly one of the favorites on the women’s side of the draw at the year’s first Grand Slam.
Osaka’s first big breakout came as she captured the hearts of Tennis Paradise in 2018 as an underdog champion, and a return to glory in Melbourne this January would surely make her the women’s favorite heading into the 2022 BNP Paribas Open.
2021 BNP PARIBAS OPEN BREAKOUTS LOOK TO BUILD ON MOMENTUM
The first-ever fall edition of the BNP Paribas Open thrust some breakout stars onto the global stage for the first time in their young careers. Paula Badosa shocked the tennis world last October as the No. 21 seed marched to a shocking title victory in Tennis Paradise. The rising Spanish star enters the Australian Open as the tournament’s No. 8 overall seed. A strong showing in Melbourne would allow her to continue building momentum before she returns to Indian Wells in 2022 to defend her title.
On the men’s side of the draw, 2021 BNP Paribas Open semifinalist Taylor Fritz heads into the Australian Open as the top-seeded American male in the draw. The 24-year-old captivated Tennis Paradise last fall with a shocking upset over Alexander Zverev in the quarterfinals. The Southern California native will certainly have the home crowds behind him this March as he looks to capitalize on last year’s success.