Melbourne | AO Preview: Swiatek is the clear favourite for women’s singles title

The good news is that Emma Raducanu is fit to play the Australian Open, having recovered from the ankle turn she suffered in Auckland 10 days ago, but Ajla Tomljanovic and Paula Badosa, who was seeded 11th at Melbourne Park, have withdrawn from the first Grand Slam of the year because of injuries, the former with a bad knee and the latter with a thigh pull.

It’s been a team effort to get me to this place. We’ve definitely expedited the process, but I’m feeling really good and looking forward to getting out on the court. It’s just a huge, huge props to my team, really here and back home, who have helped get me to this place. Emma Raducanu

In the absence of the pregnant Naomi Osaka, retirees Ash Barty and Serena Williams, and an injured Venus Williams, there will be a new AO champion unless two-time winner Victoria Azarenka can pull of a hat-trick r Sofia Kenin finds the kind of form that saw her lift the trophy.

Raducanu, the British No 1 and 2021 US Open champion, takes on Tamara Korpatsch in the 1st-round on Monday, which is midnight UK time on Sunday.

After a ‘team effort’ to get her ready, the 20-year old has built up her time on the practice court during the week at Melbourne Park and appears to be moving well.

“In the match, obviously, at the time, you’re a bit worried about it’” she admitted. “When you just go over, you don’t really know what’s going on, but we’ve been working very hard.

“It’s been a team effort to get me to this place. We’ve definitely expedited the process, but I’m feeling really good and looking forward to getting out on the court.

“It’s just a huge, huge props to my team, really here and back home, who have helped get me to this place.”

Raducanu has physio Will Herbert, a central member of her team when she won the US Open, with her again, and the pair have been putting in the hours off court to get her as ready as she can be for her match with the 27-year old German, who is ranked one place ahead of the World No 75.

Another factor is the presence of new coach Sebastian Sachs, who seems to be doing well with his new charge.

“I really like Seb, I think that we’ve been doing some some great work,” Raducanu added. “He’s very objective. He’s really experienced, actually. I just love the way that we’re working together and I really hope it lasts.”

Raducanu won her only previous match against Korpatsch, on the clay of Stuttgart last year, coming through in 3 sets.

“She’s an awkward player, bit tricky,” said Raducanu, who reached the 2nd-round on her debut here in Melbourne last year. “So it’ll be a good challenge to get used to her style and play. It’ll be a good test for me to see where I’m at.”

Tomljanovic and Badosa have allowed Leolia Jeanjean and Laura Pigossi to move into the main draw as Lucky Losers.

Emma Raducanu says she has recovered from her ankle injury, thanks to the efforts of her team, and has been putting in hours of practice ahead of the Australia Open

© Paul Crock/AFP via Getty Images

World No 1 Iga Swiatek leads the field and has a tricky opening 1st-round encounter with 68th-ranked Jule Niemeier, and, should she beat the German, she will then likely meet Camila Osorio from Colombia.

In the 3rd-round, the 21-year old Pole is projected to meet 26th-seeded Marie Bouzkova from the Czech Republic.

Then, at the start of the second week, Swiatek would probably play Danielle Collins, the American who made the AO final 12 months ago.

In the quarter-final, Swiatek is projected to play Coco Gauff, the American she defeated in last year’s French Open final, after which, she could meet Jessica Pegula for the second time this year, having lost to her in the recent United Cup.

If Swiatek reaches the final, there could be World No 2 Ons Jabeur waiting for her.

In Swiatek’s top quarter is another Grand Slam champion in Bianca Andreescu, who is the Pole’s potential 3rd-round opponent but, in order to progress, the Canadian will have to overcome a big obstacle in her opener, Bouzkova, the Czech who beat her in 3 sets in the semi-finals of the Phillip Island Trophy WTA 250 event in Melbourne two years ago.

Reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina from Kazakstan is another big name in this quarter, who has never got herself past the 3rd-round at the Australian Open.

Her potential opponent in the round of 32 will be Collins, whom she defeated in the 1st-round of the 2023 Adelaide International 1.

Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko, and possibly Raducanu, are two major champions in the bottom half of the first quarter, but Gauff, the 7th-seed, is a bigger threat, as she won the ASB Classic title a week ago without dropping a set.

Jessica Pegula poses a threat in the second quarter of the draw, having led the USA to victory in the recent United Cup and beating Iga Swiatek in the process

©  Patrick Hamilton/AFP via Getty Images

Third seed Pegula and 6th seed Maria Sakkari are the strongest contenders in the second quarter of the singles draw.

Pegula comes into her most successful Grand Slam full of confidence after leading Team USA to the inaugural United Cup title, and having posted quarter-finalist appearances in Melbourne in her past two appearances.

The highest-profile 1st-round clash in this quarter is that between unseeded Sofia Kenin and seed No 24 Victoria Azarenka, who have 3 AO singles titles between them.

Major champions Petra Kvitova and Barbora Krejcikova are also here, both Czechs, while another prominent 1st-round clash in this quarter will be between Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk against seed No 28 Amanda Anisimova from the USA.

Caroline Garcia, seed 4, heads up the third quarter of the draw and is a likely semi-finalist

© Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images

The third quarter sees 4th seed Caroline Garcia from France and 8th seed Daria Kasatkina of Russia standing out, and it also features former the World No 1 Czech, Karolina Pliskova, 9th-seeded Veronika Kudermetova, another Russian, and seed No 16 Anett Kontaveit from Estonia.

The most interesting 1st-round encounter in this part of the draw is that between Frenchwoman Alizé Cornet and 2021 US Open runner-up Leylah Fernandez from Canada.

No 2 seed Jabeur and 5th seed Aryna Sabalenka headline the fourth quarter.

Ons Jabeur, the No 2 seed, reached the finals of both Wimbledon and the US Open and is looking to go one step further in Melbourne to secure her first Grand Slam title

© Graham Denholm/Getty Images

Jabeur missed the 2022 Australian Open because of a back injury, and opened her 2023 season with a run to the Adelaide International 1 semi-finals, but in her 3-setter against 17-year old Linda Noskova ended there, and she needed a medical timeout for treatment on her back.

The Tunisian remains a strong contender, though, having reached the finals at her previous two Grand Slam appearances, at Wimbledon and the US Open.

Sabalenka kicked off the year by winning her 11th career title at the Adelaide International 1 without dropping a set.

The only title that the Belarusian owns that is not from a hard-court tournament is the 2021 Madrid Open.

Notable 1st-round encounters in this quarter are between Spain’s Garbiñe Muguruza and Elise Mertens from Belgium, and American Sloane Stephens against Anastasia Potapova from Russia.

Action in the Australian Open begins at midnight on Sunday night in the UK, and can be viewed live on Eurosport 1 (Sky channel 410, BT 435, Virgin 521), Eurosport 2 (Sky 411, BT 436, Virgin 522) and the Eurosport App, and, while discovery+ also provides all-court  coverage throughout the fortnight.



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