A WILD Australian Open — Who will take it all?

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, Jan. 23, 2024

G’Day mates and Happy Tennis Tuesday! I was fortunate enough to attend the Australian Open Monday through Saturday of last week, except for Friday and the tennis was outstanding. What I didn’t expect was the decimation of the seeds the first week.

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32 seeds were introduced in 2001 and this tournament was the first time that only 12 remained after the second round. The second round was where things got even crazy with Anna Blinkova’s record-breaking final set tiebreak upset over Elena Rybakina and Jessica Pegula, Ons Jabeur and Maria Sakkari also fell in round two. However, the big shocker came in the third round with Linda Noskova knocking out Iga Swiatek in a three-set battle.

I always joke how the women’s tour is so open, but this is taking it and ramping it up 1,000 notches. The way the top half of the draw imploded is something I think Tennis Twitter could investigate and discuss for many years.

Entering Tuesday, here are Melbourne’s Elite Eight:

  • Linda Noskova vs. (Q) Dayana Yastremska
  • Anna Kalinskaya vs. (12) Zheng Qinwen
  • (4) Coco Gauff def. Marta Kostyuk 7-6(6), 6-7(3), 6-2
  • (2) Aryna Sabalenka def. (9) Barbora Krejcikova 6-2, 6-3

I hate doing predictions when some matches already finished, but I would have picked both Gauff and Sabalenka to win in straight sets. Kostyuk was mighty impressive in her debut Grand Slam quarterfinal and had a 5-2 first set lead and multiple set points before Gauff stormed back. THEN, Gauff had a 5-3 second set lead and twice served for the match but the Ukrainian battled to force a decider that the reigning US Open champion swept away.

The Noskova-Yastremska match is the one I’m most interested in since both are playing in their first Grand Slam quarterfinal. Noskova has had a great start to the year with a semifinal in Adelaide and of course the win over Swiatek. However, Yastremska is playing sensational tennis this fortnight by not only qualifying, but routing No. 7 Marketa Vondrousova in the first round, taking out Hobart champion Emma Navarro in the third round and then a straight-sets win over two-time champion Victoria Azarenka in the round of 16. I think Yastremska might handle the moment slightly better and scrape out a three-set win to make the semis.

I witnessed Anna Kalinskaya’s three-set third round triumph over Sloane Stephens that took nearly three hours and holy heck, was I impressed. She nearly hit 50 winners and under 20 errors the entire match and then backed it up with a fourth round win over Jasmine Paolini. The Russian has had the talent, but either her body and confidence would fail her. Armed with former pro Patricia Tarabini in her corner, she’s finally coming into her own and she will need to play another perfect match to knock out Zheng Qinwen. The Chinese is into her second consecutive/overall Grand Slam quarterfinal and after meeting idol/2014 champion Li Na, perhaps this is her time to snatch the torch? This matchup has the potential to be a really fun one, but I think Qinwen is just better prepared for the moment and as the lone seed in the top half, I think she’s going through.

As for the semifinals, like I said, this is Qinwen’s to lose — at least until the final. I see a straight-sets win over either Yastremska or Noskova to make the final, but it’ll likely stop there. The bottom half is just a bit more loaded with firepower and we already have a US Open final rematch with Gauff against Sabalenka. The way Sabalenka is playing is borderline inhumane and she’s the only player to not lose a set, while Gauff was incredibly nervy in her quarterfinal. Not only do I expect Sabalenka to get revenge, but I think she might be able to do it in straight sets.

From there, I expect Aryna Sabalenka to win her second consecutive Australian Open. She’s playing phenomenal ball, is oozing confidence and is having fun doing it. Like I said, I’m not accountable if you use my predictions because at this rate, they’re infamous.

Now, onto links!

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This Week in Women’s Tennis

I want to send my regards to the family of Mike Dickson, the Daily Mail superstar from England who passed away in Melbourne while covering the tennis. He and his writing will be greatly missed. Alan Mills, the former Wimbledon referee, also passed away this past week.

Big shout out to Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, who penned an open letter asking the WTA to not get into business with Saudi Arabia. Will that be enough? Unfortunately, I don’t think so.

The Australian Open is testing letting fans come through after each game instead of just during changeovers. Personally, I’m a fan of this, but players have had mixed reactions. While they were the first to test the 10-point final set tiebreaker, they still haven’t been able to avoid super late-night finishes.

WTA Insider profiled Magdalena Frech, who upset Caroline Garcia en route to her first second week showing at a Grand Slam.

Hall of Famer Arantxa Sanchez Vicario was found guilty of financial fraud in Spain, but had her two-year prison sentence waived since she’s a first-time offender.

Tennis balls and their effect on player injuries continues to be a hot topic among both the WTA and ATP.

In case you were wondering, I’m still reeling after Danielle Collins not only had Iga Swiatek in the palm of her hand in the second round, she announced after that 2024 will be her final year on tour. It’s commendable she shared so early in the season, since retirement can be a sensitive subject for a lot of players.

If you want to feel old, Lindsay Davenport’s son Jagger is playing the Australian Open junior tournament 24 years after his mom took the women’s title.

Dinara Safina applauds Mirra Andreeva and Alina Korneva as they break through the big leagues after playing the 2023 Australian Open junior final.

Though she credits Ashleigh Barty for helping her be the No. 1 player she’s been, Iga Swiatek remains positive following her third round shocker.

I’m saving watching Break Point for my flight home next week, but Jessica Pegula gave some insight after being featured in the second season.

Unfortunately, Jennifer Brady will be out for an extended period of time due to knee surgery and will be going back to UCLA to take classes and volunteer coach the women’s tennis team.

Naomi Osaka accepted a wildcard into the WTA 500 event in Abu Dhabi, while she will join Swiatek, Sabalenka and Rybakina in Doha.

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Tweet of the Week

Though I’m technically media, I appreciate players checking us every once in awhile:

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