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Australian internationals: anything is possible

Will the Australian Open be the scene of a new fairy tale like the one experienced in New York a few months ago? Nothing is impossible, because in women’s tennis, surprises have long become the norm.

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Four months have passed since the coronation of the young Briton Emma Raducanu at the US Open. First qualifier in history to lift a major trophy, the 150e world had achieved the feat in front of such an unexpected opponent: Quebecer Leylah Fernandez, then 73e.

While it’s hard to dream of another such refreshing final for the first Grand Slam of the season, it’s also hard to target who the real favorites are.

At the start of the year, the women’s top 10 has rarely been so inexperienced. Of the 10 highest ranked players in the world this week, only four have already won a major title: Australia’s Ashleigh Barty (1D), the Spaniard Garbine Muguruza (3rd), the Czech Barbora Krejcikova (4the) and Poland’s Iga Swiatek (8e).

The boss and the ghost

Boss of the WTA, Barty also seems to be the safest bet at the dawn of the fortnight. Already crowned in Adelaide this year, the 25-year-old dreams of adding the major title in Melbourne to her list, ahead of her own.

In her first tournament of the season, the Aussie proved intractable, dropping just one set en route to 14e career triumph.

“I grew in strength with each match,” she rejoiced at the end of the final.

Romanian Simona Halep (15e) also started 2022 strong, winning the Melbourne test event, her first title since a calf injury sidelined her for three months last year.

After a season punctuated by two breaks from tennis to treat her mental health problems, the Japanese Naomi Osaka (14e) played his first tournament in Melbourne last week since losing to Fernandez at the US Open.

Injured to an abdominal muscle, the former number 1 was forced to withdraw in the semi-finals last week. But if the body and the head hold, the highest paid female athlete in the world will remain one of the most dangerous players of the Australian Open, where she has already won the title twice.

Even if, by his own admission, his only objective this year is “to have fun on the field”, a joy that had dissipated for a while.

Young people expected

And the two tennis princesses, Raducanu and Fernandez? Their final in New York brought them glory and sponsors, but since then they haven’t posted the same results on the pitch.

If the Quebecer did well after all with a round of 16 in Indian Wells, then a second round in Adelaide, where she was sharply defeated by Swiatek, it was laborious for Raducanu.

A real darling in Great Britain since his triumph, the young star has won only two games in his last four tournaments.

“I would be surprised if Emma Raducanu was still in the top 20 at the end of the season,” said former American player Pam Shriver recently.

In Melbourne, which will only be the third Grand Slam tournament of his career, the 18e world will also have a good challenge from the start, she who will face the powerful American Sloane Stephens.

As for Leylah, seeded in a major event for the first time (23e), it will be entitled to a more favorable first round (see the table above). But we still have to see what form she will be in, she who withdrew from Sydney last week.

MONDAY

Leylah Fernandez (23e favourite)
vs. Maddison Inglis, Australia, 139e world

Rebecca Marino (qualified – 146e world)
vs. Marie Bouzkova, Czech Republic, 80e world

They are favorites to win

  • Ashleigh Barty (Australia, 1D first in the series)
  • Garbine Muguruza (Spain, 3e)
  • Simona Halep (Romania, 15e)

To analyse :
Not only are they among the most experienced players in Grand Slams, but they have been showing good form lately. Muguruza lost in the quarterfinals in Sydney, but won the title in Guadalajara, Mexico late last season. Both Barty and Halep have already won a tournament this year.

They could muddy the waters

  • Maria Sakkari (Greece, 5e first in the series)
  • Paula Badosa (Spain, 8e)
  • Ons Jabeur (Tunisia, 9e)

To analyse :
In the Australian heat, the fitness of Sakkari, a semi-finalist at the last US Open, will be an asset. Jabeur is one of the rising stars of the circuit and has done damage to the WTA in the last months of 2021. Titled in Indian Wells, Badosa will also be one to watch, but there are many of them who can dream of great honors.

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