Australian Open predictions — Will the WTA’s “Big Three” continue to dominate?

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, Jan. 16, 2024

G’Day mates and Happy Tennis Tuesday! I’m still Down Under and got to check out some first round Australian Open action at Melbourne Park and will continue cheering on some of our The IX friends this week. Like I always do, I’m going to be quick and likely reckless with my predictions though some of my picks are already out — go figure.

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The Australian Open has, in my opinion, a pretty decently balanced draw and some mouth-watering matchups. Caroline Garcia knocked out Naomi Osaka last night, but Tuesday’s play includes Danielle Collins taking on Angelique Kerber and Iga Swiatek facing Sofia Kenin in a rematch of the 2020 French Open final. Other first-round matches that caught my attention were Laura Siegemund’s final set tiebreak over No. 17 Ekaterina Alexandrova and Magdalena Frech’s epic over Daria Saville, while players like Coco Gauff, Elina Svitolina and Caroline Wozniacki looked extremely good in their first rounders. A special shout out for the biggest upset thus far is qualifier Dayana Yastremska, who was the No. 1 seed in the qualifiers and destroyed No. 7 Marketa Vondrousova, 6-1, 6-2.

The “Big 3” of Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina are the ones to beat, plain and simple. They’ve been playing strong tennis already this season with Swiatek winning all of her United Cup matches and Rybakina winning Brisbane over Sabalenka in the final. They’re kind of at a different level than the rest of the field — at least on hardcourts.

Round of 16
(1) Iga Swiatek def. (19) Elina Svitolina
(11) Jelena Ostapenko def. (7) Marketa Vondrousova
(3) Elena Rybakina def. Sloane Stephens
(5) Jessica Pegula def. (12) Zheng Qinwen
(8) Maria Sakkari def. (10) Beatriz Haddad Maia
(4) Coco Gauff def. Naomi Osaka
(6) Ons Jabeur def. (9) Barbora Krejcikova
(2) Aryna Sabalenka def. (13) Liudmila Samsonova

(1) Iga Swiatek def. (11) Jelena Ostapenko
(3) Elena Rybakina def. (5) Jessica Pegula
(4) Coco Gauff def. (8) Maria Sakkari
(2) Aryna Sabalenka def. (6) Ons Jabeur

(3) Elena Rybakina def. (1) Iga Swiatek
(2) Aryna Sabalenka def. (4) Coco Gauff

(2) Aryna Sabalenka def. (3) Elena Rybakina

Perhaps they’re safe and boring, or maybe I’m totally off, but I see a rematch of last year’s final happening with the same result. Expect a big hitter to storm through the draw regardless of how the draw unfolds. Again, it’s my gut which holds no weight.

Onto links!

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This Week in Women’s Tennis

With hopes to combat late night finishes that seemed to drastically increase in 2023, the WTA and ATP announced new regulations for daily schedules. The tour also confirmed their calendar with an announced increase in prize money for players.

Jelena Ostapenko re-enters the Top 10 after taking the Adelaide International over Daria Kasatkina. The doubles title went to Taylor Townsend and Beatriz Haddad Maia, who beat Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic.

Emma Navarro won her first WTA title at the Hobart International, outlasting top seed Elise Mertens in a three-set battle, while Chan Hao-Ching and Giuliana Olmos defeated unseeded Guo Hanyu and Jiang Xinyu to win their first doubles title as a duo.

Last year, I told you to watch out for Yuliia Starodubtseva. The Old Dominion alum started 2023 unranked and this week qualified for her first Grand Slam main draw in just her second appearance.

Loved these fun facts about the trophies given to both the Adelaide and Hobart champions.

Hanlon Walsh previews some of the new doubles teams that are forming this year, including Storm Hunter and Katerina Siniakova and the reunion of Elise Mertens and Hsieh Su-Wei.

Amanda Anisimova had a big first round upset over No. 13 Liudmila Samsonova, but the American opened up about the mental health break she took that was desperately needed.

Four of the eight moms playing the Australian Open are former champions, including comeback players Angelique Kerber and Naomi Osaka. Another mom, Elena Vesnina, will be making her return next month in the Middle East swing.

Alycia Parks has lofty goals for the 2024 season after winning her Australian Open debut — including a Grand Slam title and Top 10 debut.

Vera Lapko, a former Top 60 player, announced her retirement at the age of 25:

Coco Gauff worked with Andy Roddick for a few days to abbreviate her service motion in hopes to make it a consistent weapon.

Finally healthy, Paula Badosa leads the field of players hoping to regain their top form after injury.

Maria Sakkari says she had her best preseason this year and among the shifts in her tennis is thanks to a big racquet shift.

The Nordea Open was named the WTA’s WTA 125 Event of the Year for the 2023 season.

I’m saving it for my return flight from Australia, but if you’re curious, here are some things you would learn from Season 2 of Break Point.

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Five at The IX: Adelaide International

Q. You had a huge smile on your face during the celebration and presentation. What does it mean to you to win a title again?

JELENA OSTAPENKO: Yeah, it’s really great, especially just in the beginning of the year, and I think it kind of gives more confidence and especially during the season because I won doubles last week and singles this week, so I feel like I play well in Australia.

THE MODERATOR: Congratulations on the victory and a fantastic week. Is Adelaide going to be your second home after winning two years in a row here?

TAYLOR TOWNSEND: I love it here. It’s so relaxing. It’s so peaceful. It’s really such a great stop to come here after an off season where it’s cold — at least where I am it’s cold, so just to be able to get outside and just relax, it’s like — I love it, honestly, just to walk around the city. It’s great food. I love it.

I always look forward to coming back. I was really excited when I saw the schedule, and to see that Adelaide was here once again, I knew I wanted to come back. So maybe.

Q. Your thoughts on Adelaide as a whole this week. Have you enjoyed your time?

BEATRIZ HADDAD MAIA: Yeah, I enjoyed my time here. I think while the weather was closer to Brazil, it wasn’t that different, but it feels special. I think also we can go and come back from the hotel to the club walking and passing to the river, which is a very special moment also for us. I think that is why it is so relaxing. It’s like a meditation to come to the club, and there’s no traffic, so everything is like working well. Everyone receives us very well. The facilities are great, as well.

I think now I’ll wish I can come back next year again.

Q. Going into a major and especially the year’s first major, I know you’ve played a fair amount through United Cup, but is a match like that of benefit, or would you rather the mold be pretty straightforward?

JESSICA PEGULA: I was talking about it with my coach, I was like, the three matches I’ve played this year have been super tough. I feel like the girls are playing at a super high level and hitting the ball so clean and being really aggressive. I’ve had some really tough matches.

Yeah, I’m happy — I think I’m happy that I’ve gotten tough matches because it’s always hard when you haven’t been in those situations and then you throw yourself into a Slam in those situations, it’s really tough. You always feel great and it’s easy to win when you’re winning on a easy score line.

I don’t mind the tough matches now. I think that’s the whole point of playing these events is to be tested however it is. Obviously I don’t want to do that when I’m out there, but when you’re in the situation and you can figure it out and use that going into a Slam, I think that’s really helpful.

Q. Would you give us a little insight into your back injury and how it restricted you, what physically you were able to do or not able to do during the recovery period?

PAULA BADOSA: Well, it was a very long injury. It was a very long process. It’s an injury that you don’t have much under your control because at the beginning I thought, oh, I do more hours of treatment, I do more hours of this or that and I’m going to heal faster. Then I learned that just having patience, trying to let it heal by their own.

But honestly it’s a very slow — I was going to say a bad word, but yeah, very slow process.

Honestly since maybe three, four weeks ago, I was like pain-free because until then I was playing maybe for one, two days but then I was feeling pain again, so it was a little bit like a roller coaster. It was a very tough process, especially mentally for me to accept all this.

As I always say, I love to play tennis. I love to compete. So all of a sudden one day I had to stop completely and started to have like a normal life — not even a normal life. I had to stay on the couch, so imagine how boring was that.

But yeah, finally I’m injury free now. I’m very excited to start the season. Hopefully I’m healthy the entire year.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Joey Dillon