Rested Swiatek, Alcaraz eye maiden titles at Australian Open

World number one Iga Swiatek and two-time Grand Slam champion Carlos Alcaraz are primed and ready to resume their quests for a maiden Australian Open title on Tuesday after taking the time to recharge their batteries during the off-season.

Swiatek, who is among the favourites for the women’s singles title, will be hoping to improve on last year’s fourth-round exit after a strong start to the season in which she won all five of her singles matches at the United Cup mixed team event.

The Pole credited her “peaceful” off-season for her impressive form, telling reporters: “I literally could just focus on practicing and resting.

“I remember last year it was all pretty hectic because I had plenty of stuff to do off court.

“I realised that sometimes I let myself not be focused 100% because I played so many matches that I said to myself, ‘Okay, I have like six weeks now of not playing matches, so I can kind of chill out’.”

In her first-round match, 2022 Australian Open semi-finalist Swiatek faces American Sofia Kenin, who she beat 6-4 6-1 in the French Open final in 2020 to claim the first of her four Grand Slam titles.

Men’s world number two Alcaraz also begins his campaign on Tuesday, and by comparison to Swiatek, the Spaniard is almost undercooked, having opted to skip all the warm-up events this month.

Ahead of his first-round meeting with veteran Richard Gasquet, Alcaraz said he needed a holiday to recover from a gruelling 2023 season in which he won six titles, including Wimbledon, Madrid and Indian Wells.

“We ended the season so, so late. I prefer to have a holiday, have my days to recover my body, my mind as well,” Alcaraz said.

“I think we discussed with my team, as well, that we need almost four, five weeks of pre-season to prepare well this season, for the first Grand Slam of the year.

“We had no time if I wanted to play a tournament before the Australian Open. At the end we preferred to come here straight to a Grand Slam.”

German sixth seed Alexander Zverev takes on compatriot Dominik Koepfer, while women’s third seed Elena Rybakina faces former world number one Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic in the night session on Rod Laver Arena.

Rybakina’s evening slot on the main showcourt is a far cry from the settings of her first-round match at last year’s Australian Open, when she began her campaign on an outer court at Melbourne Park despite being the Wimbledon champion.

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