Aryna Sabalenka is the defending women's singles champion at the Australian Open

The world’s best players have already arrived down under to start the 2024 season with the ultimate goal of peaking at the Australian Open.

The hard-court tournament in Melbourne is the first Grand Slam event of the season.

Here are all the key details…

When is the Australian Open 2024?

The main draw starts on Sunday, 14 January at Melbourne Park and concludes on Sunday, 28 January.

It is the first time the Australian Open will start on a Sunday instead of the usual Monday, with the tournament extended to 15 days as organisers hope to avoid late-night finishes.

Qualifying begins on Monday, 8 August. Players have to win three qualifying matches to earn a place in the main draw.

The women’s singles final takes place on Saturday, 27 January, with the men’s final concluding the tournament on Sunday, 28 January.

Who is playing?

Defending men’s singles champion Novak Djokovic is aiming to extend his dominance in Melbourne with an 11th title, while Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka looks to retain the women’s trophy.

Serbia’s Djokovic, 36, is the top seed ahead of Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz, Russia’s Daniil Medvedev and Italy’s Jannik Sinner.

Poland’s Iga Swiatek leads the women’s field after regaining the world number one ranking from Sabalenka at the end of last year.

Sabalenka is seeded second in front of American Coco Gauff, who won the US Open in September, and 2022 Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina.

A host of familiar faces are making their Grand Slam comebacks.

Spanish great Rafael Nadal returns after missing almost a year with a hip injury he sustained at last year’s tournament, with Britain’s 2021 US Open champion Emma Raducanu in the early stages of her own comeback after wrist and ankle surgeries ruled her out for eight months.

Japan’s four-time major winner Naomi Osaka is also back after giving birth last year.

When is the Australian Open draw?

The Australian Open singles draw will take place on Thursday, 11 January.

There are 128 players in each draw and 32 will be seeded.

Seedings are used to separate the top players and ensure they do not meet in the early rounds at a Grand Slam.

They are based on a player’s world ranking, which is determined by the points players pick up at tournaments.

What time do the matches take place?

The day sessions start at 11:00 local time (midnight GMT) on the outer courts and at 12:00 (01:00 GMT) on the show courts. Melbourne is 11 hours ahead of the UK.

The night sessions – which are held on Rod Laver Arena, Margaret Court Arena and John Cain Arena – begin at 19:00 local time (08:00 GMT).

The women’s and men’s singles finals start at 19:30 (08:30 GMT).

What is the prize money?

The total prize money for the tournament is a record 86.5m Australian dollars (£46.5m).

It represents an increase of 13% from last year’s total, with increases in every round.

The two singles champions will receive A$3.15m (£1.7m).