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Players to watch in AO 2023 qualifying 

  • Matt Trollope

Grand Slam qualifying has taken on greater weight since Emma Raducanu became the unlikeliest of major champions at the 2021 US Open.

The British star won three rounds of qualifying, then stormed through the main draw, to end the tournament fortnight as the champion – all while ranked world No.150.

All players have since entered Grand Slam qualifying knowing the ultimate title is attainable – Raducanu was the first qualifier to ever do this – which is undoubtedly a confidence boost.

It will be no different for those in Australian Open 2023 qualifying, especially given the calibre of players in the 128-player fields.

DRAW: AO 2023 women's qualifying

DRAW: AO 2023 men's qualifying

Some are currently playing at a level well above their ranking, or have recently enjoyed deep runs in Grand Slam main draws. Others have already reached the top of the sport, and know what it takes to succeed on the biggest stages.

We focus on eight players whom fans should make a note to follow when the action begins at Melbourne Park on 9 January.

MORE: AO set for three-week tennis extravaganza

Alycia Parks

Parks made tennis fans sit up and take notice when she blasted 59 winners past Maria Sakkari to reach the WTA Ostrava quarterfinals; a round earlier she beat former world No.1 Karolina Pliskova. 

(Note the finger wag after beating Sakkari, much like her tennis idol Serena Williams).

The 21-year-old gets her power from an athletic 185cm-tall frame; she equalled the world record for the fastest women’s serve in US Open 2021 qualifying, when she sent one down at 207.6km/h.

Parks began 2022 ranked outside the top 200 but rose steadily with success on the ITF circuit. Then came the run in Ostrava, where it took eventual champion Barbora Krejcikova to stop her, in two tight sets.

Late in the season she halved her ranking in just three weeks, vaulting from world No.150 to No.75 after winning consecutive WTA 125K titles in Andorra and Angers.

She narrowly missed the AO 2023 main-draw entry cut-off, but is the No.1 seed in qualifying and will begin her campaign on a 10-match winning streak.

Tim van Rijthoven

Once a promising junior, the 25-year-old Dutchman had for years competed on the Challenger and Futures circuits, with a year-end ranking that never rose above No.250.

That all changed in 2022, when he entered his home ATP tournament in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, and won it.

Van Rijthoven was a 205th-ranked wildcard at the time yet beat three top-15 opponents – Taylor Fritz, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Daniil Medvedev – to complete a fairytale week on grass.

READ MORE: A Grand Slam season to remember in 2022

That was quickly followed by a fourth-round run at Wimbledon, where his eight-match winning streak was eventually stopped by Novak Djokovic – but only after a four-set battle on Centre Court. He later won a round at the US Open.

After beginning 2022 ranked No.261, he peaked at world No.101 and currently sits at 111th.

Linda Noskova

The fast-rising Czech has opened season 2023 with a bang thanks to her extraordinary run to the Adelaide International 1 final.

After qualifying for the main draw, the 18-year-old beat Daria Kasatkina, Victoria Azarenka and world No.2 Ons Jabeur to become the youngest WTA finalist in Australia in 17 years, and the youngest to beat a top-two player in a completed match since 2008.

She has struck a tour-high 150 winners in 2023 – her backhand is an exceptional weapon – which puts her well ahead of the second-placed Aryna Sabalenka, with 93.

Noskova is one of several impressive Czech women emerging in the sport, and had already begun attracting attention in 2022, a year she started ranked No.265 before peaking at 87th in August.

Her rise was made possible by two ITF titles among 40 match wins, and she also came very close to knocking Raducanu out in the first round of Roland Garros.

She is the second seed in qualifying, behind Parks.

Fernando Verdasco

Verdasco will forever be associated with the Australian Open thanks to his memorable run to the 2009 semifinals, where Rafael Nadal stopped him in one of the tournament’s greatest ever matches.

The former world No.7 is a tour veteran at age 39, having turned pro in 2001. And while wins have been harder to come recently – he is 44-52 in the past two seasons after struggling with injuries – he managed to haul his ranking from outside the top 200 up to world No.108 in the middle of 2022.

Verdasco has missed the past two Australian Opens, but reached the third round in his most recent two visits in 2019 and 2020. 

With his experience Down Under and love for the conditions, he will be a dangerous threat in the qualifying rounds.

Eugenie Bouchard

Bouchard became a household name with her run to the Australian Open 2014 semifinals.

The result kick-started an incredible year for the Canadian, who went on to reach the Roland Garros semifinals and Wimbledon final, then cracked the world’s top five. 

She also backed up her AO 2014 semifinal with a quarterfinal finish in 2015.

Former world No.5 Eugenie Bouchard in action en route to the Australian Open 2015 quarterfinals. (Getty Images)

She is currently ranked world No.327 after missing almost 18 months of competition due to shoulder surgery, an encouraging result given she was unranked when she came back in August.

Since returning, the aggressive baseliner has notched a WTA quarterfinal in Chennai, qualified for the WTA 500 event in Ostrava, and won a round at the 1000-level tournament in Guadalajara.

Bouchard hasn’t contested the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament since Roland Garros in 2020, but could do so with a successful run next week at Melbourne Park.

Benoit Paire

Paire is a former world No.18 who has appeared in the second week at three of the four majors.

Yet after struggling through two pandemic-affected seasons, the 33-year-old is currently ranked No.179 – a region of the rankings list he has not inhabited since 2010.

Australian Open 2023 marks the first time in eight years Paire will contest the qualifying rounds of a Grand Slam tournament, but he enters with the memory of an impressive run to the third round at Melbourne Park 12 months earlier, which included an upset of Grigor Dimitrov.

He also enjoyed an upswing in form in his last three months of the season, entering 2023 with increased momentum.

One of the sport’s most unique characters and inventive shotmakers, AO qualifying will give fans a chance to see the talented Frenchman in action up close.

Coco Vandeweghe

Vandeweghe finds herself in a very similar situation to Bouchard, as a former top-10 player and Australian Open semifinalist making her way back from serious injury.

The American, blessed with easy power and one of the best serves in women’s tennis, has slowly but surely built her way back up since 2019 after battling multiple physical issues.

From a low of No.636 when she returned in July of that year, she has risen to world No.128, helped in 2022 by a quarterfinal in Charleston and a WTA 125K title in Concorde – her first tournament victory of any kind in more than six years.

Vandeweghe came within a set of the AO 2017 final and has the game and experience to succeed at the highest level.

This, coupled with her returning confidence, will make her an extremely dangerous proposition in AO qualifying.

Brandon Holt

Holt, 24, is a product of the US college tennis system, and approached the top 200 in 2022 after beginning the season outside the top 900.

More notably, he is the son of former world No.1 and two-time major champion Tracy Austin.

At the same venue where his mother won the title in 1979 and 1981, Holt stunned top American Taylor Fritz – then ranked world No.12 – to reach the second round of the US Open on his Grand Slam debut.

The victory came after Holt won three rounds of qualifying; he will enter AO 2023 qualifying knowing exactly what it takes to complete three hard-earned victories on the back courts of a Grand Slam tournament complex. 

Holt begins the new year incredibly match fit after winning more than 50 singles matches in 2022 and five ITF Futures titles.