Can Iga Swiatek continue to dominate the women’s tour with an Australian Open title or will the rest of the field step up their games?
By Daniel Hicks | Photo by Saeed Khan/AFP
World number one Iga Swiatek leads the field in an Australian Open women’s draw shorn of some of its biggest recent stars. Ashleigh Barty, who lifted the trophy 12 months ago, and Serena Williams have retired, while the 2019 and 2021 winner Naomi Osaka has pulled out.
Here, AFP Sport picks out five players to watch:
The 21-year-old seized her opportunity after the retirement of Barty to dominate 2022, securing eight WTA titles and becoming the first woman in six years to win two Grand Slams in the same season—at Roland Garros and New York.
After losing the Australian Open semifinal to Danielle Collins, Poland’s Swiatek did not look back. She lifted the trophy in Doha a month later to kick-start an incredible 37-match winning streak that only ended in the third round at Wimbledon five months later.
Swiatek began this year’s Australian Open build-up with three straight-sets victories in the United Cup. But a 6-2, 6-2 defeat to Jessica Pegula in the semi-inal left Swiatek in tears, complaining she felt “helpless” and unable to show up “physically and mentally.”
The Tunisian world number two appears to be on the cusp of a Grand Slam breakthrough, having been runner-up at Wimbledon and the US Open last year. The 28-year-old has set herself a 2023 target of toppling Swiatek from the number one ranking and becoming the first Arab and African woman to win a Slam.
Late bloomer Jabeur was 26 when she lifted her maiden WTA title in 2021 at Birmingham, adding Madrid and Berlin trophies last year. “I’m not someone that’s going to give up,” vowed Jabeur after losing the US Open final to Swiatek.
The 28-year-old world number three comes into Melbourne Park after starring for the victorious USA team at the United Cup, where she won four of her five matches and beat Swiatek.
Pegula, whose parents are the billionaire owners of the Buffalo Bills NFL franchise, reached the Australian Open quarterfinals in 2021 and last year, where she was outclassed by a rampant Barty. With Barty out of the way she could prove the biggest challenge to Swiatek.
The explosive Belarusian promised she would be up for a “big fight” at the Australian Open after winning in Adelaide this month for the 11th WTA title of her career.
The 24-year-old left-hander sprung back into form last season, reaching the semifinal at the US Open and the WTA Tour finals championship match, where she lost to Caroline Garcia.
Sabalenka can suffer hugely from nerves, which were all too obvious at her two season-opening tournaments in Australia last year when she was reduced to tears as her serve collapsed.
The 18-year-old American goes into Melbourne Park on a high after winning her third WTA title at the Auckland Classic this month.
The world number seven first won hearts as a 15-year-old in 2019 at Wimbledon when she arrived as a qualifier and reached the last 16, beating five-time champion Venus Williams along the way.
Her exploits sparked “Coco Mania” and she went on to win her first WTA title that year with her second coming in 2021, a year in which she beat Barty in Rome.
Last year her upward trajectory gathered pace as she reached her first Grand Slam final, losing to Swiatek at Roland Garros.
© Agence France-Presse