How will the Australian Open Unfold? — Must-click women’s tennis links

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, Jan. 17, 2023

Happy Tennis Tuesday! Though the Australian Open has already started, I still have to give my infamous predictions. The biggest news of the week has been the first half of Netflix’s Break Point, which I will report about in a future TT. I’m due to begin Episode 3 and it’s well done, but I’m curious on how it will impact the WTA. Unfortunately, two of its stars, Paula Badosa and Ajla Tomljanovic have had to withdraw due to injury.

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For my predictions, as always inspired by Jon Wertheim’s Seeds Report, I’ll go in quarter-by-quarter and then show how my draw unraveled — so make sure to do the complete opposite if you’re into betting.

Quarter 1
Honestly, the story of this tournament will be “who can stop Iga Swiatek?” The No. 1 seed has won the two of the previous three Grand Slams and she was a force on outdoor hardcourts, including capturing the Sunshine Double in Indian Wells and Miami. She was given a nice draw to ease her way into things, though a potential third round with Bianca Andreescu is tasty. The Canadian hasn’t played much tennis since her 2019 US Open win and I think Swiatek will sift through with ease. Last year’s runner-up Danielle Collins upset the Pole en route to the championship match and they could face off in the fourth round. Reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina seemingly gets zero love or respect as a Grand Slam champion and I wonder if a chip on her shoulder would be enough to bulldoze through the draw. The projected seed in Swiatek’s way is No. 7 Coco Gauff, who could finally face off against Emma Raducanu in the second round. Raducanu had a bad ankle injury in Auckland, the tournament Gauff eventually won, so I don’t expect the meeting to be what pundits are hoping for. Zheng Qinwen can really make some noise, but she had to retire last week in Adelaide after pushing Petra Kvitova around. Should she be healed, she’s the one to watch out for.

(1) Iga Swiatek def. (13) Danielle Collins
(7) Coco Gauff def. (17) Jelena Ostapenko

Quarter 2
If there’s someone that likes playing Down Under the last few years, it’s probably Jessica Pegula. The No. 3 seed has made two consecutive Australian Open quarterfinals, a final in Auckland and toss in a doubles title in Melbourne last year and guiding the United States to United Cup glory earlier this month. Armed with a solid practice partner in compatriot Frances Tiafoe, this might be her time to finally reach a Grand Slam semifinal. Petra Kvitova was the lone player to beat Pegula — or any American for that matter — in United Cup play and they should face off in the fourth round given their draws. Madison Keys, a two-time semifinalist and Victoria Azarenka, a two-time champion, could spearhead a deep run. It’s also Azarenka playing 2020 champion Sofia Kenin in the first round, for me. What are the odds? We’re not even talking about No. 6 seed Maria Sakkari, too, though she may be on my radar for an early upset. This quarter could have some really fun matches and surprises.

(3) Jessica Pegula def. (15) Petra Kvitova
(10) Madison Keys def. (6) Maria Sakkari

Quarter 3
This is the quarter that can honestly be a hot mess, there’s really nothing more I can say. WTA Finals champion Caroline Garcia should find herself easily in the quarterfinals, but let me find some crow to eat first. I just don’t want to jinx her. No. 8 Daria Kasatkina made the Adelaide 2 final last week, but was waxed by Belinda Bencic. A No. 30 Karolina Pliskova — which is quite shocking to say — aims to reroute her tumble down the rankings and she’s played some stellar ball in Melbourne in the past. Veronika Kudermetova and Anett Kontaveit are able to barge through on the WTA’s smaller stage and never at the Grand Slams. Could this be their now? Someone not on the radar is wildcard Taylor Townsend, who won both Adelaide doubles titles this season and is in the best shape of her career. A career-best run in Melbourne isn’t out of the question. That being said, if seeds start to topple, it’s from the quarter, but No. 4 Garcia should have this in the bag.

(30) Karolina Pliskova def. (9) Veronika Kudermetova
(4) Caroline Garcia def. (16) Anett Kontaveit

Quarter 4
There are some fun first-round matchups in this quarter. Elise Mertens vs. Garbine Muguruza, a returning Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs. Camila Giorgi, IX friend Sloane Stephens vs. Anastasia Potapova and an all-American tussle between Claire Liu and Madison Brengle are on my list to must-see. No. 2 seed Ons Jabeur has finaled at the last two Grand Slams, but both moments were too much for the Tunisian. Remember, in 2020, Jabeur made her first Grand Slam quarterfinal, so she has good memories here. A tricky Marketa Vondrousova could await in the second round and should she get past the Czech, another Czech in Linda Fruhvirtova or Slam giant killer Kaia Kanepi looms. Belinda Bencic is riding high on confidence following her title last week and a return to the Top 10. She’s perhaps the one to mark as a favorite to finally make a quarterfinal in Melbourne. No. 5 seed Aryna Sabalenka can beat anyone on any day, but also lose to anyone on any day. She’s also never made the final eight in Australia, but she started the year with a title in Adelaide and she has a draw she can problem solve her way though.

(5) Aryna Sabalenka def. (12) Belinda Bencic
(2) Ons Jabur def. (14) Beatriz Haddad Maia

Now, how does the second week unfold?

Round of 16
(1) Iga Swiatek def. (13) Danielle Collins
(7) Coco Gauff def. (17) Jelena Ostapenko
(3) Jessica Pegula def. (15) Petra Kvitova
(10) Madison Keys def. (6) Maria Sakkari
(30) Karolina Pliskova def. (9) Veronika Kudermetova
(4) Caroline Garcia def. (16) Anett Kontaveit
(12) Belinda Bencic def. (5) Aryna Sabalenka
(2) Ons Jabur def. (14) Beatriz Haddad Maia

(1) Iga Swiatek def. (7) Coco Gauff
(3) Jessica Pegula def. (10) Madison Keys
(4) Caroline Garcia def. (30) Karolina Pliskova
(5) Aryna Sabalenka def. (2) Ons Jabur

(1) Iga Swiatek def. (3) Jessica Pegula
(5) Aryna Sabalenka def. (4) Caroline Garcia

(1) Iga Swiatek def. (5) Aryna Sabalenka

I warned y’all, so just beware. Now, onto links!

This Week in Women’s Tennis

The read of the week goes to D’Arcy Maine, who profiled the challenges for players at the lower level of professional tennis like Jamie Loeb and The IX friend Vicky Duval. Host families, skipping health insurance or borrowing friends’ shoes are among the tricks of the trade on the ITF World Tour. A first-round win in the main draw of Melbourne can be massive for some players’ entire 2023 season.

As per normal during Grand Slams, WTA Insider is delivering with pre-tournament features:

  • Victoria Azarenka viewing her tennis from a different lens.
  • Iga Swiatek opening up in The Players Tribune.
  • Caroline Garcia coming into her own to potential Grand Slam glory.
  • Five things we learned from Ashleigh Barty’s memoir, My Dream Time.
  • Ons Jabeur

The biggest bombshell of the week came from Naomi Osaka, who announced she’s expecting her first child and will not be on court in 2023. She aims to be on court again in 2024, but who knows?

Belinda Bencic captured the WTA 500 in Adelaide with a destructive 6-0, 6-2 win over Daria Kasatkina to claim her seventh singles title. In doubles, Taylor Townsend made it two-for-two in titles this year, this time partnering with Luisa Stefani to take out Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Elena Rybakina.

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At the Hobart International, qualifier Lauren Davis won her second career title and first since 2017 Auckland with a straight-set win over Elisabetta Cocciaretto. She won all seven matches in straight sets, losing only 43 games in 14 sets. Top seeds Kirsten Flipkens and Laura Siegemund won their second title as a team, defeating Viktorija Golubic and Panna Udvardy in the final.

Samantha Stosur shared that the Australian Open will be her final tournament after a legendary two-decade career:

Paula Badosa has no issues putting her ongoing mental health journey at the forefront of Break Point.

Camila Giorgi denied the reports that she faked a COVID-19 vaccine passport, instead saying the misunderstanding came from her receiving her vaccines in different countries at different times.

In ITF news, there’s a new prize money level — $40,000, where qualifying draws from there and above will now play two out of three full sets instead of two with a match tiebreaker at the end.

Junior tennis is coming to professional tournaments outside of the Grand Slams! The BNP Paribas Open’s second week will feature an ITF J300 tournament on-site at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

Russian and Belarussian flags were banned from Melbourne Park following an incident between Russia’s Kamilla Rakhimova and Ukraine’s Kateryna Baindl.

For a two-year pilot starting in 2024, the NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships will now be held in the Fall instead of right after the Team Finals in May.

The Nordea Open in Bastad, Sweden was named the WTA 125 Tournament of the Year, as voted by players.

Tweet of the Week

Jessica Pegula is down for a good joke, even at her own expense:

Five at The IX: Adelaide 2 Champ Belinda Bencic

THE MODERATOR: Are you happy with that win?

BELINDA BENCIC: I’m super happy I won the tournament, the first tournament of the season. It’s always very nice. I’m happy I could show my work here on the court. I thought I played some great matches from the start of the tournament and also against different kind of opponents so I really could test myself out there in every way and just go confidently into the Australian Open.

Q. On that subject, going into the Australian Open now, is this the best you’ve felt maybe in the last couple of years going into the Australian Open?

BELINDA BENCIC: Yeah, obviously I think it was my best result before the Australian Open for now. I had the most matches going into it. But that doesn’t mean anything; once I step on the court in Melbourne, it always starts from zero, so it doesn’t matter if you have a losing streak of 25 going into the Australian Open or if you are on a winning streak. You still have to deliver and have a good performance there.

Of course it helps to be confident and to know and to believe in yourself, but still, I think this is great. I won this tournament, but in Melbourne, it starts from zero again.

Q. How important was not having to play yesterday for today? I know both of you were in the same situation, but you avoided 37 degrees yesterday, but you still got 38 today. But not to play back-to-back days with temperatures that high.

BELINDA BENCIC: I mean, even if I would have played, I think it wouldn’t have made a difference. But of course I’m happy without having to play. Maybe it was even good going into the Australian Open now that I had a day off. I was able to practice well, to recover well.

I’m not going to complain, obviously, about a walkover, but still, even if I would have played, I think I would be fine, as well. It’s not really in my control, but yeah, I’ll take it.

Q. Must be nice to know that you’re back in the top 10.

BELINDA BENCIC: Yeah, it’s really nice. Of course it’s a big goal for everyone, very close, and I’ve been very close for I think the last couple of months. I’m really happy I finally made a step back into the top 10, and I hope to go further.

Q. Overall what are your thoughts about the Australian Open? Are you somebody who only looks at the first round and you don’t look beyond? How do you approach it?

BELINDA BENCIC: Well, actually like my coach told me who I’m playing. I don’t really study the draw so much, but I also don’t avoid looking at it. I think I’m pretty neutral with it. I had some Grand Slams where I wouldn’t look at the draw and then I would play, I think, the semifinals, and then obviously then you are in the fourth round or quarterfinals, you are watching on TV, ESPN, and you can see how they tell your opponent, and you’re like, oh, no, I can hear it.

I think it’s not avoidable to know your draw, so I’m not making such a big deal out of it, but it’s also not someone, I’m not looking like rounds further, so I’m taking it round by round for sure.

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