MELBOURNE, Jan 13 (Reuters) – Iga Swiatek is the heavy favorite to clinch her fourth Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, but the outlook is far less clear if the world number one fails to live up to her status. head of series.
Now that Ash Barty and Serena Williams have hung up their rackets and Naomi Osaka is pregnant with her first child, Melbourne Park will almost certainly usher in a new era by crowning a new champion on January 29.
The only two former champions of the 128 entrants will meet in the first round, and it is highly unlikely that either will still be alive in the competition when the Daphne Akhurst Trophy is awarded.
Victoria Azarenka won both of her titles a decade ago, and little has gone well for Sofia Kenin since she triumphed in 2020, though she did reach the semifinals in Hobart this week.
The race to fill the void left by the absence of last year’s Australian champion Barty and seven-time winner Williams should be led by Swiatek, who looked unbeatable at times last season.
The 21-year-old Pole won her second French Open, proved she could win on hard courts with her maiden win at the US Open, and went on a 21st-century record 37-match winning streak.
Last week she broke down in tears after being beaten by American Jessica Pegula on the fast slopes of Sydney at the United Cup, but was quick to deny the idea that her emotional outburst was a sign of something deeper.
“It’s not the first time I’ve cried after losing a game. Nothing special,” said the self-proclaimed perfectionist.
“I just felt a little helpless today, because physically and mentally I wasn’t able to even show up and solve the problems.”
Last year, in her first hard-court Grand Slam semifinal, Swiatek was beaten by Danielle Collins in Melbourne Park (6-4, 6-1), and this year, if the seedings hold, the American will be in the round of 16.
However, problem-solving is something Swiatek prides herself on, and the 13th-seeded Collins could find the Pole a different challenge if they meet this year.
Unsurprisingly, bookmakers rank strong point guards Aryna Sabalenka, the winner in Adelaide last week, and Pegula, who helped USA win the United Cup, as the best chances to clinch the title afterward. from Swiatek.
Charismatic American teen Coco Gauff would be a popular champion. Last year’s French Open finalist is in form, having opened the season with the title at the Auckland Open.
Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina’s big serve gives her a chance to clinch her second Grand Slam title, while world number four Caroline Garcia is enjoying a late-career renaissance, winning the Finals of the WTA on hard court last year.
Collins, Barbora Krejcikova, Belinda Bencic, Daria Kasatkina and Veronika Kudermetov have displayed the kind of early season form that could portend a run to the end of the tournament, which begins on Monday.
Tunisian Ons Jabeur is the second seed after reaching the final at the last two Grand Slams, losing to Rybakina at Wimbledon and Swiatek at Flushing Meadows.
Her dazzling racquet skills, more than power, could work against her on the famous blue courts, but there are surely few more popular winners than this bubbly 28-year-old.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing in Spanish by Tomás Cobos)