Tennis Channel Live: Examining Paula Badosa's rise

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One thing we can say about the women’s tournament at the Australian Open this year: It hasn’t been loaded with anything like the controversy and uncertainty of the men’s. What it is loaded with is possibilities: There are 14 different Grand Slam winners in the field.

Here’s a look at the draw, and some thoughts on how it might play out.

First Quarter

All eyes, Down Under and elsewhere, will be on Ash Barty to start the year. For the third straight season, the world No. 1 will come to Melbourne having won a warm-up event, and with the hopes of her country on her shoulders. Barty says the heightened expectations don’t get to her. Now that she has a Wimbledon title in her back pocket, it would seem to be the time for her to shrug the pressure off entirely, and bring the title home for the first time in 44 years.

But there might be a serious obstacle in her way: last year’s champion. Barty and 13th-seeded Naomi Osaka are scheduled to meet in the fourth round. They are 2-2 in their head-to-head, but haven’t played since 2019. Osaka says she doesn’t like Barty’s varied game; but once Osaka gets on a roll, she’s tough for anyone, no matter how many shots she may own, to stop.

  • Dark horse: Amanda Anisimova. The American, who won a title last week, is slated to play Belinda Bencic in the second round and Osaka in the third.
  • Also here: No. 5 Maria Sakkari and No. 9 Ons Jabeur

Semifinalist: Osaka

More than half of Osaka's tour-level titles have come on the Grand Slam stage (4/7).

More than half of Osaka's tour-level titles have come on the Grand Slam stage (4/7).

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Second Quarter

Here we’ll see the first test for two of last year’s breakout performers: No. 4 seed Barbora Krejcikova and No. 8 seed Paula Badosa. Krejcikova won her first singles major last year, at Roland Garros, while Badosa made herself a leading candidate to do the same in 2022. Both have looked to be in solid early-season form this week in Sydney.

Better yet for them, neither faces an intimidating road to the quarterfinals. Krejcikova has Victoria Azarenka, Elina Svitolina and Jelena Ostapenko on her side, while Badosa has Ajla Tomljanovic (in the first round), Coco Gauff and 2020 champ Sofia Kenin. As for the head to head between the Spaniard and the Czech, Badosa leads 2-0.

First-round matches to watch:

  • Badosa vs. Tomljanovic
  • Gauff vs. Qiang Wang
  • Kenin vs. Madison Keys

Semifinalist: Krejcikova

Last season, Krejcikova went 15-3 at the majors in singles.

Last season, Krejcikova went 15-3 at the majors in singles.

Third Quarter

If the second quarter features the 2021 breakouts, the third is where the players who surged late in the season—Garbiñe Muguruza and Anett Kontaveit—will try to pick up where they left off last fall. Kontaveit finished her year with three titles after the US Open, while Muguruza closed the season out with her first WTA Finals win, in Guadalajara (defeating Kontaveit in the final).

Of the two, Kontaveit may have the tougher draw. She’ll start against Katerina Siniakova, could play Clara Tauson in the second round, either Shelby Rogers or Danielle Collins—two Americans who have pulled off upsets Down Under in the past—in the third round, and one of the game’s most in-form players, Elena Rybakina, in the fourth round. As for Muguruza, her toughest competition, at least on paper, might come from Simona Halep in the round of 16.

  • Dark Horse: Rybakina. She pulled out of Sydney with a thigh injury, but reached the final in Adelaide the previous week.
  • First-round match to watch: Emma Raducanu vs. Sloane Stephens

Semifinalist: Kontaveit

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Can Sabalenka serve her way out of a concerning 2022 start? In her first two matches, the world No. 2 has combined to cough up 39 double faults.

Can Sabalenka serve her way out of a concerning 2022 start? In her first two matches, the world No. 2 has combined to cough up 39 double faults.

Fourth Quarter

What should we think about Aryna Sabalenka’s chances? After reaching the semifinals at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2021, she’s certainly on the Most Likely to Win Her First Slam list in 2022. But she has also started the new year 0-2. In Melbourne, she’ll open against Aussie wild card Storm Sanders, and should be able to play her way into the tournament from there.

How about the second-highest seed here, Iga Swiatek? If you watch her from day to day and set to set, her state of mind and level of play can swing wildly. But when you look back at her results, they’re surprisingly steady; in 2021, she made the round of 16 or better at all four Slams.

  • Also here: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Angelique Kerber, Petra Kvitova, Leylah Fernandez
  • Player to Watch: Daria Kasatkina. She’s made the semis at both of her warm-up events, and could play Swiatek in the third round.
  • First-round match to watch: Kvitova vs. Sorana Cirtstea

Semifinalist: Sabalenka

Semifinals: Osaka d. Krejcikova; Kontaveit d. Sabalenka

Final: Osaka d. Kontaveit