Melbourne | Muchova sidelined as AO ups its prize money

World No 8 Karolina Muchova has withdrawn from the Australian Open after suffering a recurrence of the nagging wrist injury that kept her out of the WTA Finals in October.

Being a mum has changed my life a lot. I think it changed my perspective on a lot of things. Giving birth was one of the most painful things I've ever gone through. It's definitely made me feel like physically I can handle a lot. I want to show Shai that she's capable of everything, so that's one of my main purposes and main reasons why I want to be back out here. Naomi Osaka

As a result, the Czech has decided to postpone the start of her season Down Under after experiencing a flare-up of pain in her injured wrist.

The 27-year-old enjoyed one of her best seasons in 2023, and finished as the runner-up to top-ranked Iga Swiatek at the French Open ahead of a run to the US Open semi-finals in September, where she suffered the right wrist issue.

She was set to compete in the season-ending championships in Cancun for the first time before pulling out and being replaced by Maria Sakkari.

“This isn’t my favourite thing to share especially at the start of a new season, but unfortunately the pain in the wrist came back in the middle of my preparation,” Muchova, a former Melbourne Park semi-finalist, said on Instagram on Thursday. “I therefore have to postpone the start of the season and fully heal my wrist first. It’s frustrating but I have to keep positive, recover and get ready for the rest of the year.”


Craig Tiley, Australian Open Tournament Director and CEO of Tennis Australia, has announced an increase of A$10 million, making A$86.5 million ($58.4 million) in total prize money for 2024

© Morgan Hancock/Getty Images for Tennis Australia

Meanwhile, Australian Open officials have announced an increase in prize money of an additional 10 million Australian dollars ($6.8 million) for the first Grand Slam of 2024, which begins on Sunday 14 January at Melbourne Park.

Tournament Director Craig Tiley said in a statement on Friday that the AO will now offer A$86.5 million ($58.4 million) in total prize money.

In August, the US Open increased its total prize money and player compensation to a record $65 million, which is the highest among the four Majors.

“We’ve upped prize money for every round at the Australian Open with the major increases in qualifying and the early rounds of singles and doubles,” Tiley said.

At Melbourne, 1st-round qualifiers will receive a 20% increase to A$31,250 (about $21,000), while the men’s and women’s singles champions will receive A$$3.15 million each (about $2.15 million).

The women’s final, where Aryna Sabalenka is the defending champion, is set for Saturday 27 January, with the men’s final, where Novak Djokovic is the defending champion, scheduled for Sunday 28 January.


Naomi Osaka, posing here with a koala at Lone Pine Sanctuary, is making her return to the WTA Tour at the Brisbane International

© Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

2024 sees the much-heralded return of new mums Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber, as well as Emma Raducanu.

Osaka says motherhood has given her a new outlook and the former world number one hopes to inspire her daughter Shai when she returns to the WTA tour at the Brisbane International, which begins on Sunday.

The four-times Grand Slam champion last competed in a WTA tournament at the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo in late September 2022, and gave birth to her daughter in July this year, before announcing her highly-anticipated comeback 4 months later.

“Being a mum has changed my life a lot,” Osaka said on Friday during a visit to Brisbane’s Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. “I think it changed my perspective on a lot of things.

“Giving birth was one of the most painful things I’ve ever gone through. It’s definitely made me feel like physically I can handle a lot.

“I want to show Shai that she’s capable of everything, so that’s one of my main purposes and main reasons why I want to be back out here.”

Osaka begins her final AO preparations, which she won in 2019 and 2021, by competing in a tournament where she has reached the semi-finals twice.

The Japanese tempers expectations about her title prospects in Brisbane, though.

“I’ve given myself the biggest chance to do well, but at the same time, I haven’t had any match play,” Osaka said. “I’m just embracing the fact that it’s my first tournament in a very long time. I’m just trying to have fun and do well at the same time.”


Angelique Kerber returns alongside Alexander Zverev, representing Germany in the United Cup in Sydney

© Jason McCawley/Getty Images

Kerber is a 3-time major winner and is making her return to professional tennis at the United Cup this week, where she will team up with with Alexander Zverev and the pair are keen to repeat their 2018 and 2019 form which saw them make the Hopman Cup finals.

The German is also realistic about the challenges she will face after missing the past 18 months following the birth of her daughter back in February.

Kerber hasn’t played since Wimbledon in 2022 but Melbourne is her happy hunting ground, having won her first Grand Slam here in 2016 when she beat Serena Williams in the final.

“To come back to the tour in Australia is the perfect start for me, especially for Team Germany at the United Cup,” she said. “It’s been 18 months away from professional tennis and a lot has happened since then with the birth of my baby daughter.

“I’ve heard great things about the event and the strength of the player field is really impressive.

“Representing my country in the past has always been an honour. Even more so, it’s a special occasion for me to play my first match back on the tour for Team Germany at the United Cup.

“Each group is difficult, but I’m hoping we’ll have a good run.”


Emma Raducanu comes back to competition in Auckland, New Zealand

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Britain’s Raducanu has opted to return to the Tour in Auckland, at the WTA 250 that begins on New Year’s Day.

The 2021 US Open champion last competed on the WTA Tour in April, and has undergone 3 surgeries to treat recurring wrist and ankle problems.

Raducanu has revealed she showed kindness to herself during the challenging times, and took an extended break in order to bring out her best.

She will be warming up for the AO alongside a star-studded line-up at the ASB Classic, with two other new mums in Caroline Wozniacki and Elina Svitolina, as well as defending champion Coco Gauff, the World No 3.

Still only 21, Raducanu has her career still ahead of her, and she returns from injury with a clean slate, less pressure on her shoulders and with ample opportunity to improve her game significantly.

She has been working with one of her childhood coaches, Nick Cavaday, as part of her come-back preparations, who may join her team in Auckland and in Melbourne for the Australian Open.

Returning to someone who played an important role in developing the skills that saw her win the US Open at such a young age could well revitalise Raducanu, who stormed through the New York draw as a qualifier with blistering power, especially with her two-handed backhand, to lift the trophy without dropping a set.

The hope is that Raducanu can rediscover that ability in 2024, and silence her doubters in the process.


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