We’re nearly there. It’s been a rocky road up to the 2021 Australian Open but the tournament is set to get underway on Monday. After the withdrawals on Friday and Saturday, and the announcement that the Grampians Trophy final will not be played at all, my attention has naturally switched to the first Slam of the year. Draw predictions will follow in the usual place on Sunday. Read on for my preview of the 2021 Australian Open.
Seeds 1️⃣: (1) Ash Barty, (6) Karolina Pliskova, (11) Belinda Bencic, (16) Petra Martic, (18) Elise Mertens, (21) Anett Kontaveit, (25) Karolina Muchova and (29) Ekaterina Alexandrova
Unseeded loomers ⚡: Danielle Collins, Shelby Rogers, Jelena Ostapenko, Barbora Strycova and Svetlana Kuznetsova
Blockbuster R1 match 🎆: Karolina Muchova vs. Jelena Ostapenko should be an entertaining first time meeting. I’d fancy Muchova to prevail with the better serve and the ability to mix up the play which should be an effective tactic against Ostapenko.
Match-up(s) hoping for 🤞: Nothing screams out at me to be honest. Pliskova-Collins (R2) would be an interesting rematch from last week’s Yarra Valley Classic as it was a high quality contest which Collins won in two tiebreak sets. Sticking with this section, I’d also be up for Pliskova-Muchova (R3) or Collins-Muchova (R3).
Fun fact 🤓: Kristyna Pliskova and Heather Watson will play each other in the first round of the Australian Open for the second consecutive year. In 2020, Watson beat Kris Plis, 4-6 6-3 6-1.
General thoughts 🤔: Barty is definitely one of the draw winners and I don’t see who stops her from getting to the quarters. Even with the long lay-off, she’s looked sharp and is generally very reliable with her base level better than most. I’m still not convinced by Pliskova and she’s got some notable pitfalls in her draw with potentially Danielle Collins (R2) and Karolina Muchova (R3). Elsewhere, it’s anyone’s game. Elise Mertens is a solid bet to make the second week. The dark horses are Danielle Collins and Shelby Rogers who both have previous Slam pedigree and looked in superb form in the warm-up tournaments.
Seeds 1️⃣: (4) Sofia Kenin, (5) Elina Svitolina (12) Victoria Azarenka, (13) Johanna Konta, (20) Maria Sakkari, (22) Jen Brady, (26) Yulia Putintseva and (28) Donna Vekic
Unseeded loomers ⚡: Kaia Kanepi, Marie Bouzkova, Coco Gauff, Kaja Juvan and Jessica Pegula.
Blockbuster R1 match 🎆: I’m looking forward to Elina Svitolina‘s opener against Marie Bouzkova. The pair played a great final in Monterrey last year, the last tour level final before the pandemic struck. Svitolina won, 7-5 4-6 6-4 in exactly three hours. I’ve been so impressed with Bouzkova and she was quite close to beating Barty in the week. I’m actually going to take a punt and go for Bouzkova to score the upset.
Match-up(s) hoping for 🤞: Azarenka-Sakkari (R3) would be a tough third rounder. Assuming they make it that far, I think the winner could go very, very deep in this draw. The upset sirens are already ringing for Kenin-Kanepi (R2) which could be a fun one. Strangely, I feel like if it were to happen, I think Kenin would win.
Fun fact 🤓: Last year’s champ, Sofia Kenin, headlines this section of the draw. The last time that a WTA player defended a Slam title was Serena Williams in 2016 when she defended her 2015 Wimbledon title. Good luck, Sofia!
General thoughts 🤔: Another open section but more legitimate contenders than the first quarter. Kenin has the weight of defending on her shoulders. I’d be surprised if she makes it out of this quarter. I think that the potential Azarenka-Sakkari third rounder is the defining match of the quarter. The winner makes the semis IMO. Jen Brady, rounding into some form in the Grampians Trophy, has a favourable draw to have another deep run at a hard court Slam.
Seeds 1️⃣: (3) Naomi Osaka, (8) Bianca Andreescu, (9) Petra Kvitova, (14 Garbiñe Muguruza, (19) Marketa Vondrousova, (23) Angelique Kerber, (27) Ons Jabeur and (30) Wang Qiang
Unseeded loomers ⚡: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Venus Williams, Tsvetana Pironkova, Hsieh Su-Wei and Caroline Garcia
Blockbuster R1 match 🎆: Did anyone else suddenly realise that Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova wasn’t seeded when her name popped up next to Naomi Osaka?! It’s probably the blockbuster match of the entire first round and it will be first up on Monday. Pavs has history in Melbs and has reached the quarter-finals in three of the last four years. I’m going for Osaka as I think it’s one of those matches that she gets up for. She won’t underestimate Pavs.
Match-up(s) hoping for 🤞: I’m all over Muguruza-Kerber (R3). Draw gods, if you are listening, please make it happen. The pair haven’t played since 2017 which is a travesty. Their two clashes at Wimbledon in 2015 and 2017 were both sensational matches. I’m also excited about the prospect of Osaka-Jabeur (R3) which gives me Osaka-Hsieh vibes from a few years ago. Looking a bit further afield, dare we dream for a first time meeting with Osaka-Muguruza (R4)?
Fun fact 🤓: I’m absolutely thrilled to see Rebecca Marino in the main draw of a Slam for the first time since the 2013 Australian Open. Marino retired from tennis back in 2013 and spoke after about her battles with depression and abuse on social media. Marino made a comeback to professional tennis in 2018 but has since faced further challenges. Playing for the first time in over 18 months, Marino qualified for the main draw of the Australian Open without dropping a set! You can read more about Rebecca’s inspiring story here.
General thoughts 🤔: Brutal. Absolutely brutal. Six Slam champs in this sections and so many storylines. The return of Bianca Andreescu is a very exciting prospect for the tour. Naomi Osaka is the bookmaker’s favourite and Garbiñe Muguruza has arguably played the best tennis in the past week. And then chuck in Andreescu, Kvitova, Kerber, Vondrousova, Jabeur and Venus. Oh and a first time meeting (!) between Hsieh Su-Wei and Tsvetana Pironkova. It’s all going on.
Seeds 1️⃣: (2) Simona Halep, (7) Aryna Sabalenka, (10) Serena Williams, (15) Igaw Swiatek, (17) Elena Rybakina, (24) Alison Riske, (31) Zhang Shuai and (32) Veronika Kudermetova
Unseeded loomers ⚡: Marta Kostyuk, Daria Kasatkina, Anastasia Potapova, Fiona Ferro and Camila Giorgi
Blockbuster R1 match 🎆: Two of the players that impressed from the first week of the 2021 season in Abu Dhabi, Veronika Kudermetova and Marta Kostyuk, will reprise their semi-final clash in the first round in Melbourne. Kudermetova won a tense two setter, 7-6(8) 6-4. For no reason whatsoever, i’d actually go for Kostyuk this time round.
Match-up(s) hoping for 🤞: S.Williams-Sabalenka (R4) and Halep-Swiatek (R4) would be fantastic fourth round matches. Before that, i’m hoping for Swiatek-Rybakina (R3) which would be a first time meeting and a nice clash in game styles.
Fun fact 🤓: Two of the highest seeds in this quarter open against players they lost to in their most recent encounters. Iga Swiatek opens against Arantxa Rus and will want to erase a first round loss to Rus in Rome last year immediately prior to her French Open triumph. Sabalenka’s opener against Viktoria Kuzmova looks a great match-up on paper as Kuzmova has lost her last seven matches in straight sets. However, Kuzmova can draw on a win against Sabalenka in their most recent meeting in Fed Cup action in 2018.
General thoughts 🤔: Not quite as brutal as the third quarter but joined together with it and this bottom half is a minefield. I was very impressed with Serena during the Yarra Valley Classic so she’d be my favourite to progress from this quarter.