Swiatek to Raducanu: Five exciting women's players to watch at the Aussie Open

Swiatek is the favourite after rocketing back to the top of the rankings in November but Sabalenka, Rybakina, Osaka and Raducanu all pose a big threat in Melbourne

By AFP

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Poland’s Iga Swiatek serves during a training session in Melbourne. - AFP
Poland’s Iga Swiatek serves during a training session in Melbourne. - AFP

Published: Sat 13 Jan 2024, 12:37 PM

Iga Swiatek will be the hot favourite to win a first Australian Open when it begins on Sunday, but could face a stiff challenge from reigning champion Aryna Sabalenka.

AFP Sport highlights five women to watch at first Grand Slam of the year.

The world number one is a four-time Grand Slam champion but has never been beyond the semi-finals at Melbourne Park.

The Polish player rocketed back to the top of the rankings after winning her first WTA Finals trophy in November.

Arena Sabalenka of Belarus prepares to serve during a practice session ahead of the Australian Open. - AP
Arena Sabalenka of Belarus prepares to serve during a practice session ahead of the Australian Open. - AP

She enjoyed a stellar season in 2022, recording 37 straight wins, but faltered last year, with her 75-week run as number one ending in September.

However, Swiatek, 22, lost only one of her final 13 matches of the season and followed up by winning all five of her singles at the United Cup this month.

The 2023 Australian Open champion looked on course to finish the year on top of the world rankings until Swiatek pipped her by winning the WTA Tour finals.

The consistent Belarusian, who came from a set down to beat Elena Rybakina in the final 12 months ago, boasted a fine record at the majors last year.

Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan hits a return during the women's singles final against Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus at the Brisbane International. - AFP
Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan hits a return during the women's singles final against Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus at the Brisbane International. - AFP

She reached the semi-finals in Paris and at Wimbledon before losing to Coco Gauff in the final of the US Open.

The powerful 25-year-old was the first player since Serena Williams in 2016 to reach at least the semi-finals at all four Slams in a single season.

Sabalenka reached the final at the recent Brisbane International, losing to Rybakina.

The Russian-born Kazakh came close a year ago to adding the Australian Open crown to her 2022 Wimbledon title, losing to Sabalenka in three sets.

The world number three started the year in style, dropping just three games in beating Sabalenka in the Brisbane final, where she lost only 15 games in five matches.

Naomi Osaka of Japan. - AFP
Naomi Osaka of Japan. - AFP

"For sure it gives me confidence," she said about her Australian Open prospects. "I'm playing well now, so hopefully I continue."

The Japanese fan favourite knows her way around Melbourne Park, triumphing in 2019 and 2021, but she is something of an unknown quantity this year.

The former world number one has admitted she almost gave up on tennis but is now back in love with the sport.

The 26-year-old stepped away from the game in September 2022, citing mental health concerns. She subsequently gave birth to daughter Shai.

Britain's Emma Raducanu attends a kids tennis day event in Melbourne. - AFP
Britain's Emma Raducanu attends a kids tennis day event in Melbourne. - AFP

Osaka will be unseeded after dropping to 833 in the world.

Britain's Emma Raducanu stunned the tennis world when she won the US Open in 2021 as a qualifier but only on one other occasion has she reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam.

The 21-year-old has plummeted to 299th in the world after an eight-month layoff with ankle and wrist injuries.

Raducanu, who has a high profile despite her relative lack of success, took Ukraine's Elina Svitolina to three sets in round two in Auckland.

But she is still feeling her way back from injury and will likely regard any sort of run in Melbourne as a bonus.


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