Australian Open news 2023: Craig Tiley’s PR Blitz without Ash Barty, Roger Federer, Serena Williams

The Australian Open is almost upon us, but one comment in the past week raised plenty of eyebrows in the tennis world – and left many wondering whether a swifty is being pulled on fans.

Craig Tiley’s job as Australian Open director is to promote the product and he has every right to be overly optimistic on the eve of his tournament.

But. And it’s a big but.

Tennis fans aren’t silly and when the guy who runs the first grand slam of the year tries to pull a swifty on them, eyebrows are raised.

Last week Tiley was on the hustings spreading the word about new sponsorship deals and rolling out all the regulation plugs required to keep those who pay the bills happy.

During the PR blitz he offered this: “I’m also proud of the fact that this year is our best field. As far as the entries go, every single player – we’ve had a few pull-outs as you know from injury, but this is our best field we’ve had both on the men and the women.”

Best field ever! WOW.

The tennis world is still coming to terms with the retirements of Roger Federer and Serena Williams who between them won 13 times at Melbourne Park. So telling us their absence – they both only officially retired last year – makes the tournament better is already a stretch.

Then we get to Ash Barty who literally got Tiley out of jail last year. After the Novak Djokovic Covid visa debacle, the fact she stepped up and created history by winning the tournament ensured we were all warm and fuzzy about the Open by the end of the two weeks.

Filling the void left by Barty’s shock retirement was always going to be impossible and the fans understood that but surely the tournament is not better off with her watching from her couch in Brisbane.

No Barty and no Serena put the spotlight on the women and this is a big problem for Tiley’s “best” claims.

And then Naomi Osaka, a two-time Australian Open winner, and one of the more intriguing people on the tour announces she’s not coming. A couple of days later she follows that up by announcing her pregnancy.

Venus Williams was given a wildcard, most likely for publicity purposes, but then was forced to pull out after picking up an injury in New Zealand.

Another former No.1 Simona Halep, who the Aussie crowd have warmed to because of her previous links to local coach Darren Cahill, is missing because of a drug suspension.

Other familiar names such as Angelique Kerber, the 2016 Australian Open champion, who is expecting her first child and Elina Svitolina, a former world No.3 who gave birth to her first child with French player Gael Monfils last year, are also missing.

The new generation is coming but the problem for Tiley is they’re not here yet. This concern was voiced by US legend John McEnroe who in the lead-up said he felt for world No.1 Iga Swiatek who appears to be a fair way ahead of the pack now.

“I think when Ash Barty retired that obviously sent shockwaves because here is a young woman at 25 that had come off winning Wimbledon, then winning the Australian Open and you think ‘OK she’s going to the US Open in the next year and it’s just a matter of time’,” McEnroe told Eurosport.

“Obviously, I hope she’s happy, you never want to see someone walk away from it that young because then you’re like ‘what’s wrong with the women’s game that the No.1 player walked away from the game aged 25’?’

“We had that issue too because my buddy and my rival Bjorn Borg walked away and never played a major after 25. It would hurt me, and my career, I believe.

“For Swiatek, not having that rival, I believe it hurts the sport.”

While Djokovic’s return was always going to dominate headlines alongside local hero Nick Kyrgios’ attempt to emulate Barty and break a long drought of local winners on the men’s side, the other exciting narrative was supposed to be around current world No.1 Carlos Alcaraz.

He stormed to victory at the US Open last year which led him to becoming the youngest-ever men’s No.1 at the age of 19.

Alcaraz was box-office and a clear part of Tiley’s promotional plans . . . until he withdrew last week because of injury.

And to rub salt into the wounds former Australian Open finalist Marin Cilic pulled out on Thursday, just before the tournament draw.

Which brings us back to the “best ever” scenario. We all know the Open will provide some memorable moments, it always does, but there are holes in the fields. That’s fact, not spin.

Originally published as Australian Open news 2023: Craig Tiley’s PR Blitz without Ash Barty, Roger Federer, Serena Williams

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