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PREVIEW: 2023 Women’s Australian Open – Selected Third Round Matches – 21 January

Damien Kayat previews the 2023 Women’s Australian Open selected third round matches as Aryna Sabalenka takes on Elise Mertens and Belinda Bencic faces Camelia Giorgi.

Steve Haag Sports

Damien Kayat previews the 2023 Women’s Australian Open selected third round matches as Aryna Sabalenka takes on Elise Mertens and Belinda Bencic faces Camelia Giorgi.

Two women looking excitedly at cellphone

2023 ATP Tour
Grand Slam Tennis
Australian Open
Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia (Outdoor Hardcourt)
Selected 3rd Round Matches
21 January

Aryna Sabalenka (2/9) | Elise Mertens (32/10)

This could prove to be a fascinating match between two women who know each other extremely well. Sabalenka and Mertens actually won two Grand Slam doubles titles together (including victory at this event in 2021).

Their shared success at this venue adds a level of poignancy to this match. Aryna Sabalenka came into this event as a legitimate tournament favorite. She has matured on the Grand Slam stage in recent seasons, reaching the semi-final stage in three of her last five Slams (this included back-to-back semi-finals in New York).

She won her season opener in Adelaide, and she has looked utterly ruthless thus far in Melbourne. In fact, she is yet to drop a set in six consecutive matches. And she was clinical against the formidable Shelby Rogers, hitting 32 winners to just 18 unforced errors.

One thing that impressed me was her off-court demeanor. She casually cajoled the press with jokes looked remarkable relaxed. She seems better prepared to deal with the weight of expectation.

27-year-old Belgian Elise Mertens is an arch competitor who will look to push Sabalenka to the limit. To be fair, most of her success in the past two years has come in doubles (she even ascended to number one on the doubles rankings).

Having said that, she did win her 7th WTA title at last year’s Jasmin Open. She is a nuggety baseliner who blends excellent defence with sudden attacking prowess. She hits the ball flat and really penetrates through the court. This is probably one of the reasons that she has always played well in this event (and in Australia in general).

Three of her seven WTA titles have come on Aussie hardcourts. She won the Hobart International in back-to-back seasons and won the Gippsland Trophy in 2021. She reached her only Grand Slam semi-final here in 2018 (beating Elina Svitolina in the process). She has also reached the 4th round here for three years running.

And she started this year’s event in brilliant fashion, overcoming former World No.1 Garbine Muguruza in an epic first-round encounter. She enjoyed a much more comfortable outing against Brit Lauren Davies. Can she continue this consistent Aussie Open form with a massive upset here?

Verdict: Sabalenka to win in three at 3/1

There have been eight previous meetings between these friends (including their first meeting in a WTA 125 event in Lugano). Sabalenka leads the series 6-2 (winning their last five successive matches). Why do I have a creepy Oompa Loompa vibe about this match? It’s a combination of Mertens’ undoubted pedigree here and Sabalenka’s tendency to flatter to deceive.

I think the Belgian may be able to sneak a set off her former partner. But I still think the Belarusian’s greater power will win the day. Her first-serve percentage has been decent and I can see her peppering Mertens with aggressive forehands.

Belinda Bencic (2/9) | Camelia Giorgi (32/10)

Could this be the year that Belinda Bencic returns to Grand Slam contention? A 2019 US Open semi-finalist, the reigning Olympic champ has often underwhelmed when it comes to the biggest stage.

But she has looked in in absolutely brilliant form this year. She went 1-1 at the United Cup. However, that defeat in the United Cup came after a titanic three-set battle with WTA queen Iga Swiatek. She won her 7th career title in Adelaide. But just look at that list of vanquished foes. She beat former World No.1 Garbine Muguruza before taking down current hardcourt titan Caroline Garcia.

She then absolutely decimated Daria Kasatkina in the final. She hasn’t dropped a set this week (though she was pushed to a tiebreak by American Claire Liu in her second-round match). She is using her excellent returning skills to maximum effect, often taking the ball on the rise and dictating play.

31-year-old Italian Camelia Giorgi has been in the headlines recently, allegedly using false Covid vaccination paperwork at last year’s Aussie Open. The glamourous Giorgi hasn’t let the off-court circus affect her performance in Melbourne.

She absolutely devastated Anatasia Pavyuchenkova in her opening match (almost executing that rare double-bagel). She then overcame Schmiedlova in straight sets (though it was a scrappy victory that saw her hit more unforced errors than winners).

Still, she won 78% of her first-serve points (which is obviously a key metric to Giorgi’s success). She likes to finish points quickly with potent serve-forehand combinations. She is regarded as one of the hardest hitters on the tour.

However, she does tend to get very loose if the tide turns against her. And she likes to go for cheap points on her 2nd serve, meaning she does rack up high double-fault counts under pressure.

Verdict: Bencic to win in three at 29/10

This will be their 4th meeting on the tour proper. Giorgi leads the series 2-1 (though it has to be said that they last met in 2019). I think Giorgi’s power from the back of the courts can destabilize anyone.

So, I think it’s fair to give her a shot at winning a set. But I think the Italian is always going to struggle over the long haul. Bencic moves better and should wear down Giorgi as the match progresses.

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