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PREVIEW: Australian Open Women’s Draw

Damien Kayat comprehensively previews the 2022 Women’s Australian Open.

Ashleish Barty - Australian Open Preview
Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports

Damien Kayat comprehensively previews the 2022 Women's Australian Open.

Two women looking excitedly at cellphone

2022 WTA Tour
Grand Slam Tennis
Australian Open Woman’s Preview
Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia
17th-30th January

I don’t remember the last time that the men’s draw of a Grand Slam has courted more controversy than the women. Last year we had the ongoing (and overblown) conversation surrounding Naomi Osaka’s mental state.

That media circus looks positively quaint in comparison to the current hullaballoo surrounding Novak Djokovic. The entire fiasco has actually left me feeling slightly exasperated and as a result I find myself far more intrigued by this year’s women’s draw.

It also helps that women’s tennis has been about as predictable as a M. Night Shyamalan film in recent years. The recent downturn of Queen Serena- who misses out due to injury this year- has completely blown the roof off the entire tour.

Sure, Aussie Ashleigh Barty is firmly entrenched as the world’s number one player. But there are just so many little narratives bubbling quietly beneath the surface.

With the announcement of the draw yesterday, I’m going to break the event down quarter by quarter, looking for likely qualifiers and possible dark horses.

1st Quarter
Top Seeds: Ashleigh Barty (1), Maria Sakkari (5), Ons Jabeur (9), Naomi Osaka (13)
Possible Dark Horse: Amanda Anisimova

Wow. This is certainly not the draw that World Number one Barty would have been hoping for. She is going to have to go some way to become the first Australian woman to win this title since 1978.

Barty is fresh off a comprehensive victory in Adelaide. And she could very well play two qualifiers in her opening two matches. But she does face the distinct possibility of meeting defending champion Naomi Osaka in the 4th round (now that would be a marquee round of 16 clash).

Osaka looked decent in her preparation event in Melbourne, withdrawing at the semi-final stage as a likely precaution leading into this event.

She is also going to have to do things the hard way. Osaka could potentially face Bencic or Anisimova in the 3rd round prior to her juggernaut clash with Barty. Anisimova enters this event in fine form after capturing the Gippsland Trophy title.

Despite all this, I still think that Barty has the edge in this section. She is in brilliant form and I fancy her to take down Osaka if they meet. Barty and Osaka enjoy a 2-2 head-to-head record.

Having said that, their last meeting came back in 2019. Both players have evolved since then and I think Barty is one of the few players who can diffuse Osaka’s power. The bottom half of this section looks far more straightforward.

Ons Jabeur and Maria Sakkari both enjoyed terrific 2021 campaigns and their passage towards a likely 4th round encounter doesn’t look that treacherous. Sakkari and Jabeur share a 1-1 head-to-head record, with Sakkari winning a nailbiter last time they met in 2020.

I just think that Sakkari has the Grand Slam edge over Jabeur after reaching two semi-finals last year. Furthermore, Jabeur was forced to withdraw from the Sydney International due to a back injury.

My Quarterfinal Picks: Ashleigh Barty vs Maria Sakkari

2nd Quarter
Top Seeds: Barbora Krejcikova (4), Paula Badosa (8), Sofia Kenin (11), Elina Svitolina (15)
Dark Horse: Victoria Azarenka (24)

By contrast to the first quarter, the 2nd quarter is really there for the taking. I’m not convinced that French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova is going to steamroll through her early matches.

The breakthrough star of 2021 may find these faster surfaces a bit too slick for her game. Elina Svitolina- ever a Grand Slam shrinking violet- has also been in poor form.

I believe that opens the door to former World Number One Victoria Azarenka. Sure, she may have to face Svitolina in the 3rd before Krejcikova in the 4th. But I think the two-time Aussie Open champion could thrive in this side of the draw.

And who can forget her run to the final of last year’s Indian Wells Masters. The 2020 US Open finalist is a big-match competitor who thrives on this pressure.
The bottom half of this section is also quite intriguing.

2020 Aussie Open champion Sofia Kenin has missed a lot of tennis and she faces a tough first-round encounter with Madison Keys. Even if she does manage to get through that, she would potentially have to face Coco Gauff in the 3rd round.

The 17-year-old American is looking great in Adelaide at present and she pushed World Number One Barty to three sets just a week ago. I think Gauff could be on a collision course with Indian Wells champion Paula Badosa.

Badosa actually thrashed Gauff during last year’s Indian Wells and I expect the Spaniard to progress through the bottom half of the section.

My Quarterfinal Picks: Victoria Azarenka vs Paula Badosa

3rd Quarter
Top Seeds: Garbine Muguruza (3), Anett Kontaveit (6), Elena Rybakina (12), Simona Halep (14)
Dark Horse: Danielle Collins (27)

This 3rd quarter could be the most fiercely competitive of all. I say that because all four of the leading seeds are in excellent form. Muguruza claimed the season-ending WTA Finals in rousing fashion.

Anett Kontaveit produced some stunning late-season tennis to secure her spot in last year’s WTA finals. It took Muguruza to finally break her incredible winning streak.

Rybakina lost in the Adelaide final to Barty while Halep also just won a title in Melbourne. How on earth are we going to separate this lot? The next real challenge for Estonian Anett Kontaveit is how to convert her sensational regular tour form into more pronounced Grand Slam success.

I think she has her work cut out for her this year. She may face 2019 Aussie Open semi-finalist Danielle Collins in the 3rd round. She would then potentially face hard-hitting Kazakh Elena Rybakina in the 4th.

I just have the feeling that Rybakina could progress through this top half of the section. She has some comfortable early matches and her all-or-nothing approach to shot-making could be perfectly suited to this arena.

2020 finalist Garbine Muguruza is in excellent form and she should have a serene passage to the 4th round. There she could meet another former World Number One in Simona Halep.

I tend to think people are getting a little reactionary in regards to 2018 finalist Halep. She won a very diluted event in Melbourne and this is going to be an entirely different matter.

Muguruza has a 4-3 win-loss record against Halep. However, the Romanian has never beaten the Spaniard on a hard court. Muguruza also beat Halep in the 2020 Aussie Open semi-final.

Halep may also have to play either Sloane Stephens or Emma Radacanu in the 3rd round. How is that for a blockbuster 1st round clash? Former US Open champ Sloane Stephens will look to keep up the pressure on the embattled current US Open champion: Emma Radacanu.

My Quarterfinal Picks: Elena Rybakina vs Garbine Muguruza

4th Quarter
Top Seeds: Aryna Sabalenka (2), Iga Swiatek (7), Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (10), Angelique Kerber (16)
Dark Horse: Daria Kasatkina (25)

This quarter is the complete antithesis of the 3rd in that none of the major seeds are in particularly good form. Iga Swiatek- a fan favourite everywhere she plays- is coming off a semi-final run in Adelaide.

The 2020 French Open champion enjoyed a hyper-consistent 2021 Grand Slam season. Daria Kasatkina could provide some issues in the 3rd round. I don’t foresee a real challenge from last year’s French Open losing finalist: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

Petra Kvitova may actually account for her pretty early on. But all in all, I think that Swiatek is the most dynamic of all the players in the top part of this section. Kvitova has looked laboured of late and I don’t see her having a lasting impact in this event.

World Number two Aryna Sabalenka is actually 2-5 since she lost in last year’s US Open semi-final. That was her 2nd consecutive Grand Slam semi-final appearance after Wimbledon.

However, I’m still unconvinced that she has the consistency to make it all the way to a Grand Slam final. Having said all that, Sabalenka does have a fairly routine run to the 4th round stage (potential 3rd round opponent Marketa Vondrousova may disagree).

Kerber has a similarly easy run until she possibly meets US Open finalist Fernandez in the 4th round. All in all, I don’t think that Sabalenka could have asked for a more appealing bracket of 32 players.

Despite her recent renaissance, I think that Kerber- the 2016 Aussie Open champion- just lacks the firepower at this point in her career to win this championship.

My Quarterfinal Pick: Iga Swiatek vs Aryna Sabalenka
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