Sky Sports tennis expert Laura Robson reports from Australia where she reflects on Emma Raducanu's return and the prospect of her facing Katie Boulter in the third round of the Australian Open - plus her analysis of the women's and men's contenders in Melbourne
Monday 15 January 2024 09:33, UK
In her first Sky Sports column, Laura Robson looks ahead to the prospect of Emma Raducanu taking on Katie Boulter at the Australian Open, super Jack Draper joining the elite, Coco Gauff's hopes and Novak Djokovic chasing history...
The tennis world has descended on Australia, but I've already been here for a few weeks as I have family here.
I saw my niece and nephew a lot and it's lovely because they're at an age where they know what Christmas is but they aren't quite sure what time of year it is, so when I arrive it's just as exciting as Santa because we come so close together!
So Auntie Laura comes and brings presents. Santa also comes and brings presents, It's a win-win for them!
I also went down to the Twelve Apostles for the first time, which considering I was born here and my parents have lived here for a long time, it was nice to tick that off the bucket list.
We also did the annual Boxing Day Test at the MCG, which is the Robson tradition and then I flew to Sydney the next day for the United Cup so it works out as a long stint but it's been really good.
Now it's time to get down to business and look ahead to the Australian Open…
I'm so happy to see Emma Raducanu back on court. I know how hard she's been working over the last six, seven months and I just think she's got some of that joy back of playing tennis the way she used to back in the day, when you first picked up a racket and you just want to crack the ball. That's what she does best.
I think you can tell from the smile on her face she's absolutely gunning to be out there. She's got the support of Ian Bates, who has done the majority of the work over the last few months with her, and then Nick Cavaday has come out here for extra support and a bit more guidance.
I know she is big on doing a lot of the research herself before she faces someone, but it's always handy to have someone with you.
It's a good test to play someone like Shelby Rogers who's a fairly big hitter from the back of the court because Emma likes that power coming on to her and I was impressed with how she played in Auckland against Elina Svitolina.
From what I've seen and heard of her practising in Melbourne, she's striking the ball so cleanly, really trying to play it as aggressive as possible. Hopefully, that's a good outcome.
But at the same time the results almost don't matter for her at the moment. It's about getting back on court as much as possible in match situations and trying to stay as healthy as possible.
There is the tantalising prospect of a potential Battle of the Brits between Raducanu and Katie Boulter, but could it actually happen?
I'd love it if she ends up playing Boulter in the third round of the Australian Open.
Both of them would be very happy to play each other if it came down to that and if Emma's back in the third round in only her second tournament back from injury then that would be unreal.
You couldn't ask for a better start to the season after being so far out of the game.
Jack Draper came to Australia a week later than the rest and watching him play over the last few days in Adelaide you can see the work that he's done in the off-season,
He looks really strong and physically as fit as I've ever seen him because the men's game is getting more and more physical. Everyone is a great athlete and everyone is fast and strong.
He's up there with some of the best players in the world and anyone who has seen Jack play in real life knows he has the game because he's got such a big serve. I'm buzzing for Jack and hopefully he won't be too tired for the major in Melbourne.
It's also great to see a true lefty out there, we have to stick together!
There's definitely a big three emerging in the women's game with Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina.
For me, Coco Gauff is ever so slightly behind - but not really behind because she's got so many things she's working on in her game right now
I feel in another year you'll see the best of Coco even though she's already won a Slam so it's a good problem to have.
Having the same players in the latter stages of tournaments is a great sign of consistency and you kind of back them now whereas a few years ago the top players could still lose in the early rounds and I just never feel that way about those four players.
Iga's changed the technique of her serve during the off-season. She's getting more power on her second serve and adding pace on her backhand which has been evident recently.
Getting that number one spot back at the WTA Finals mentally would have changed a lot for her because she put too much pressure on her shoulders. Just playing so freely to win it back unlocked a lot for her.
It's hard to bet against Novak Djokovic. He is already the GOAT and I'd give him that title happily.
It's hard to image what motivates him to this point and that's the most fascinating thing about hearing him talk. A 25th Grand Slam takes him past Margaret Court. It was be amazing for tennis for someone to hit those numbers.
I would throw Grigor Dimitrov in the mix as well. I always believe in him until it gets to a quarter-final or semi-final in best-of-five but he's hitting the ball better than I've ever seen him.
Everyone knows he's super talented and has all the strokes, all the boxes ticked, but he hasn't put it together over the last few years.
I'd love him to do well because I've worked with his coach Jamie Delgado at Wimbledon so to see his progress over the past few months has been great.
He's not a dark horse but after watching Carlos Alcaraz, he's been playing well and he's hitting the ball huge, while Alexander Zverev is also playing well.
The Australian Open has such a different vibe to the other three Grand Slams that it's more relaxed and to see 10,000 people show up for a practice match - I can't think of many other places where that would be the case.
They love sport here but it will be a battle to see who will handle the conditions best.
Laura Robson was speaking to Sky Sports' Raz Mirza from Melbourne. Watch the WTA and ATP Tours throughout 2024 on Sky Sports. Stream tennis and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership