Who is best placed to win this year’s Australian Open?

Rafael Nadal.

Rafael Nadal.Credit:Getty Images

The doubters are back after Nadal lost to Cameron Norrie and Alex de Minaur at the United Cup – and he even had to fend off questions of retirement. Nadal has the toughest opener of legitimate contenders against British rising star Jack Draper, who reached the Adelaide semifinals, but it could prove the perfect scenario to kickstart his year and championship defense. His potential opponents on the way to another final include Yoshihito Nishioka, Frances Tiafoe, Medvedev and one of Stefanos Tsitsipas and Felix Auger-Aliassime.

Nick Kyrgios

Best AO result: Quarterfinals (2015)

It seems like forever since Kyrgios worked his way through his home Grand Slam tie to reach the quarterfinals eight years ago. He’s equally entertaining and cheeky these days, but more importantly, he’s blossomed into a real contender, drawing on the experience of last year’s Wimbledon final. Kyrgios also stated on the eve of the tournament that for the first time he believes he can go all the way in a Grand Slam. The complication is his ankle and knee problems which meant his biggest public contribution on the court so far this summer was a Fast4 hit and giggles on Friday night with some serious tennis against Djokovic. Kyrgios could face the brilliant Serb in the quarter-finals but will likely have to deal with Ugo Humbert, Holger Rune and Andrey Rublev first.

Nick Kyrgios.

Nick Kyrgios.Credit:Getty Images

Daniel Medvedev

Best AO result: Second (2021-22)

Medvedev came tantalizingly close to a second Grand Slam title and first at Melbourne Park after leading Nadal by two sets in last year’s final. He rose to the world No. 1 ranking twice in 2022, but his US Open fourth-round loss to Kyrgios triggered a slump of sorts – by his high standards and still with the Vienna title – that now sees him up 1st place sees .8. Medvedev reached the Adelaide semifinals before losing to Djokovic and afterwards declared that he was playing well enough to beat most of his top 10 rivals. His opponents en route to the third straight decider include Seb Korda, Hubert Hurkacz and possible quarter-final opponent Nadal.

Daniel Medvedev.

Daniel Medvedev.Credit:Getty Images

Stefanos Tsitsipas

Best AO result: Semifinals (2019, 2021-22)

Teenage world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz won a Grand Slam title ahead of Tsitsipas but the 24-year-old remains a perennial favorite. He’s thriving in Melbourne Park, thanks in no small part to the city’s large Greek community, who shower him with love at this time of year. Tsitsipas reached the 2021 Roland Garros final, but his consistent deep runs at the Australian Open make this his most successful slam. The third seed would love nothing more than to break through here. Tsitsipas is off to a fairly friendly start to the event ahead of his first big test, likely against Jannik Sinner or his young savage Lorenzo Musetti in the round of 16. After that, Auger-Aliassime, then one of Nadal or Medvedev could be lurking.

Contender for the women’s crown

Who will succeed Australia’s own Ash Barty in accepting the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup?

The obvious choice is World No. 1 Iga Swiatek, who produced one of the most dominant seasons ever after Barty’s surprise second retirement in March.

There’s no shortage of rivals lining up to beat Swiatek, including Ons Jabeur, Jessica Pegula, Caroline Garcia and Aryna Sabalenka, as well as teenage star Coco Gauff, Maria Sakkari and Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina.

Iga Swiatek.

Iga Swiatek.Credit:AP

Iga Swiatek

Best AO result: Semifinals (2022)

No one benefited more from Ash Barty’s retirement than the Pole, who went on to embark on an exceptional 37-match winning streak that surprisingly ended in a third-round Wimbledon loss to Alize Cornet. Swiatek has never thwarted Barty in two meetings, but she almost certainly would have changed that if the Aussie hadn’t stopped. Playing a more aggressive style than Barty, she has a nearly 6000-point lead at the top of the leaderboard, such is her dominance. Swiatek already has three Grand Slam singles titles on her resume but would be very keen to succeed Barty at Melbourne Park. To even reach her first final here, the 21-year-old may need to eliminate Marie Bouzkova, Danielle Collins, Gauff and Pegula.

Ons Jabeur.

Ons Jabeur.Credit:AP

Ons Jabeur

Best AO result: Quarterfinals (2020)

The world No. 2 looked a little sluggish in Adelaide but she and her quirky game should never be overlooked – as her recent appearances at Wimbledon and the US Open last year have shown. Jabeur wants to become the first Arab to climb the top rankings and she needs serious catching up to overtake Swiatek, so a maiden Grand Slam title at Melbourne Park would certainly help that cause. To do so, she would need to significantly improve on her 6-5 Australian Open record, but Jabeur is a different player now. Before the final, Kaia Kanepi, Beatriz Haddad Maia, Aryna Sabalenka and WTA Finals champion Caroline Garcia could stand in her way.

Jessica Pegula

Best AO result: Quarterfinals (2021-22)

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Pegula, like Swiatek, has struggled against Barty but has steadily improved to the point where she is the third-ranked women’s player and has reached the last eight in three of the four Grand Slams. The daughter of Terry and Kim Pegula, owners of Buffalo Bills and Sabers – you’ve read this fact many times – seems ready to take the next step and prove that she really belongs at the upper tier of the WTA Tour. Pegula played a key role in United States’ United Cup victory, including making Swiatek cry in a stunning upset in the semifinals. Marta Kostyuk or Amanda Anisimova could be on the other side in the third round before potential encounters with Petra Kvitova, Maria Sakkari and Swiatek.

Caroline Garcia

Best AO result: Fourth Round (2018)

The ultra-talented French seems to have finally figured it all out at the age of 29, winning last year’s WTA Finals to cap a four-title season that saw her reach the US Open semi-finals and a best No. 4 rank. That result in New York was her furthest at Grand Slam level to date, surpassing her quarter-finals at Roland Garros in 2017. Perhaps Garcia’s breakthrough is down to learning to better cope with an eating disorder she was dealing with after her WTA Finals -Triumph went public, or maybe a combination of experiences brought her here. Garcia’s first serious threat in Melbourne could come as early as the second round, with Irina-Camelia Begu, Anett Kontaveit, Daria Kasatkina and Jabeur or Sabalenka possibly waiting beyond that.

Caroline Garcia.

Caroline Garcia.Credit:Getty Images

Arina Sabalenka

Best AO result: Fourth Round (2021-22)

A force to be reckoned with, the Belarusian blaster champion arrives in Melbourne after impressively winning the Adelaide International One title. She belies her fearsome presence on the court as one of the most relaxed, quotable stars on the tour. Sabalenka seems destined to win a Grand Slam title at some point, but has come up short since his climb into the top 20 in late 2018, despite being among the best in the world. The 24-year-old is starting to make progress, including three Slam semi-finals since 2021 Wimbledon, and is no longer bothered with serve yips. Sabalenka’s path to a first Australian Open final could include clashes with Elise Mertens, Belinda Bencic, Jabeur and then Garcia.

Watch the Australian Open live and free on the Nine Network – Channel 9, 9Gem and 9NOW.

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Ryan Sederquist

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