As swiftly as 2021 ended, the Australian Open Grand Slam is upon us. While current coverage may not reflect the tennis ensuing, the draw has been made with plenty of exciting subplots.
Naomi Osaka has returned to defend her crown, Ashleigh Barty begins her title chase, and Britain’s number one Emma Raducanu looks to rekindle her winning form.
A Champion Returns
Reigning Australian Open champion Osaka begins her title defence against Camila Osorio. Colombia’s number one had an excellent 2021 season, in which she rose to a career-high 55th ranking and won her maiden WTA title.
However, Osaka will aim to make a statement after her hiatus from the sport, which she took to focus on her mental health. The four-time grand slam winner is the 13th seed which could have her face Barty as early as the round of 16.
Home Hero Favourite
World number one Barty is an undisputed favourite on home soil. However, the 25-year-old has struggled to live up to expectations at this slam. Last year she was knocked out by Karolína Muchová in the quarter final, and the furthest she has reached was the semi-final in 2020.
The Australian has started the season well by winning both the single and double events at the Adelaide International. Barty overcame some strong competitors, including rising stars Iga Świątek and Coco Gauff, to take her first titles of the 2022 season.
Barty will begin her pursuit against qualifier Lesia Tsurenko, whose best result in this competition was back in 2013 when she reached the round of 32. Expect the Rod Laver Arena to be booming when their champion takes centre stage.
It has been a tough start to the season for Raducanu, who tested positive for covid, which stopped her from playing in the build-up to this event. Upon her return at the Sydney International, she was swept aside in straight sets by the up-and-coming Elena Rybakina.
Now, the 19-year-old begins her Australian Open campaign against 2017 US Open winner Sloane Stephens. While the American has struggled for form, she is still capable of picking her opponents apart and has plenty of experience to fall back on. This will be an extremely tough first round test for Raducanu.
Heather Watson, who had a good run of matches at the Adelaide International 2, will face Mayar Sherif. The Egyptian, currently ranked 62nd, has improved year on year and sets up an even contest with Watson.
The final British representative in the women’s singles is Harriet Dart. The 25-year-old battled through the qualifiers and has drawn number eight ranked Świątek. The Pole is a favourite to go all the way in this competition, giving Dart a difficult start to 2022.
Who to Keep an Eye on?
The other big hitters of the competition to watch for are Spain’s top two ranked players, Garbiñe Muguruza and Paula Badosa. Muguruza, the third seed at the Australian Open, ended the 2021 season winning the WTA Finals in Guadalajara and is projected a favourable half of the draw, starting with 77 ranked Clara Burel.
Badosa was victorious at the Sydney International, in which she overcame the fourth seed of the Australian Open Barbora Krejčíková. She begins her bid for a maiden grand slam against a tough Ajla Tomljanović.
Elsewhere in the bottom half of the draw, second seed Aryna Sabalenka faces Storm Sanders, currently ranked 128th. At the same time, US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez plays wildcard Maddison Inglis.
As a result, Sabalenka and Fernandez could potentially meet in the round of 16. Although, the Canadian may have to beat the 16 seed Angelique Kerber, who will want to start her season strong.
The tournament begins on the 17th of January, with the final on the 29th of January and if the 2021 WTA season taught us anything, expect the unexpected.