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Australian Open 2021: Women's singles draw analysis, preview and prediction

Simona Halep (L) and Sofia Kenin
Simona Halep (L) and Sofia Kenin
FEATURED COLUMNIST
Modified 09 Feb 2021
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The Australian Open is finally here after weeks of uncertainty. With a build-up very much like a Hollywood thriller, the year's first Grand Slam is all set to kick off on Monday.

Credit to Craig Tiley and the entire Tennis Australia team for going ahead with one of the world's biggest sporting events in a city that has managed to overcome COVID-19 for now. The tournament has drawn all the top players (barring an under-prepared Roger Federer), but the fans are expected to be much less in number this time and there could also be some last-minute changes to the schedule.

On that note, here's a look at the Australian Open women's singles draw, where 128 women will be battling for the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup.


1st quarter: Home favorite Ash Barty returns after 11 months

World No. 1 Ash Barty
World No. 1 Ash Barty

World No. 1 Ash Barty didn't play any tournament last year after the tour shutdown in March, choosing to remain at home in Australia. She has returned to action this season at the warm-up events before her home Slam.

At the time of writing, Barty has won three matches at this week's WTA tune-up event, and is scheduled to face off against Serena Williams on Saturday.

The last time the Aussie took a long break from the game, she charted a course that took her to the top of the rankings and the French Open title. It remains to be seen how she will fare this time around.

The 24-year-old opens her campaign against Danka Kovinic in the first round and could face countrywoman Daria Gavrilova in round two. If she gets through those two matches, a third-round encounter against Ekaterina Alexandrova and a fourth-round meeting with Petra Martic loom ahead.

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Former World No. 1 Karolina Pliskova is the scheduled quarterfinal opponent for Barty. But Pliskova could have a tough second-round encounter against the feisty American Danielle Collins.

In the third round, 25th seed Karolina Muchova could lie in wait for the Czech. And either No. 11 Belinda Bencic or No. 18 Elise Mertens could face Pliskova in the last-16.

Expected quarterfinal: [1] Ash Barty vs [6] Karolina Pliskova

Predicted quarterfinal result: [1] Ash Barty def. Svetlana Kuznetsova

Dark horse: Leylah Fernandez

1st round match (es) to watch: [18] Elise Mertens vs. Leylah Fernandez, [25] Karolina Muchova vs Jelena Ostapenko, Svetlana Kuznetsova vs Barbora Strycova


2nd quarter: Victoria Azarenka and Elina Svitolina pose a challenge for Sofia Kenin

Sofia Kenin (L) and Victoria Azarenka
Sofia Kenin (L) and Victoria Azarenka

After breaking through to win her first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open 12 months ago, Sofia Kenin has not withered under the pressure the way many other first-time Slam winners have. Kenin reached the French Open final in October, and also won the WTA title in Lyon last year.

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With a new management team, Kenin started off the new season by reaching the quarterfinals in Abu Dhabi as well as the Melbourne tune-up this week.

After opening against wild card Maddison Inglis, Kenin could face a tough second rounder against veteran Kaia Kanepi. Croatian 28th seed Donna Vekic could come up in the third round, while 13th seed Johanna Konta or 22nd seed Jennifer Brady are potential fourth-round opponents.

Ukraine's Elina Svitolina is the expected quarterfinal rival for Kenin in Melbourne this time. Svitolina, the No. 5 seed, could meet the precocious American Coco Gauff in the second round and No. 26 seed Yulia Putintseva in the third.

The draw remains tough for Svitolina even after that, with a potential fourth-round encounter against a resurgent Victoria Azarenka (who is seeded No. 12).

Azarenka, who reached the US Open final in September, is a two-time winner at the Australian Open. She could face former US Open champ Sam Stosur in the second round, followed by 20th seed Maria Sakkari in the third round.

Expected quarter-final: [4] Sofia Kenin vs [6] Elina Svitolina

Predicted quarterfinal result: [4] Sofia Kenin def. [12] Victoria Azarenka

Dark horse: Coco Gauff

1st round match (es) to watch: [20] Maria Sakkari vs Kristina Mladenovic, [26] Yulia Putintseva vs Sloane Stephens


3rd quarter: Naomi Osaka the headliner even as Bianca Andreescu returns

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Noami Osaka
Noami Osaka

Armed with three Grand Slam titles, a slew of endorsement deals and the courage to speak up against racial injustice, Naomi Osaka is poised to take over as the face of women's tennis once Serena Williams retires.

But the World No. 3 has a tough first-round encounter against the three-time Australian Open quarter-finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. The draw doesn't get any easier for the Japanese superstar after that, with former World No. 4 Caroline Garcia being a possible second-round opponent. The in-form Tunisian Ons Jabeur could also await Osaka in the third round.

Former World No. 1s and multiple Slam winners Garbine Muguruza and Angelique Kerber are potential fourth-round foes for the Japanese. Muguruza has been in excellent form a week before the Australian Open, and she could be quite a big threat in this quarter.

In the other half of this section, all eyes will be on the return of former US Open champion Bianca Andreescu. The Canadian will be playing her first tournament in nearly 15 months, and her fans will be eager to see her back.

Andreescu will face lucky loser Mihaela Buzarnescu in her first match, and could run into the resurgent Tsvetana Pironkova in the second round. Seven-time Slam winner Venus Williams might come up in the third round, while two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova is expected in the last-16.

Expected quarter-final: [3] Naomi Osaka vs [8] Bianca Andreescu

Predicted quarterfinal result: [3] Naomi Osaka def. [9] Petra Kvitova

Dark horse: Venus Williams

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1st round match (es) to watch: [3] Naomi Osaka vs Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova,[27] Ons Jabeur vs Andrea Petkovic


4th quarter: Simona Halep needs to fend off Iga Swiatek and Serena Williams

Simona Halep (L) and Serena Williams
Simona Halep (L) and Serena Williams

World No. 2 Simona Halep headlines the last quarter of the draw. The Romanian will hope to go one better than her 2018 runner-up finish, and she is undoubtedly one of the top contenders for the title this year.

Halep opens against wildcard Lizette Cabrera in the first round, and has a possible second round against Alja Tomljanovic - with Abu Dhabi runner-up Veronika Kudermetova in the last-32.

Halep's expected fourth-round opponent is the French Open champion Iga Swiatek, who straight-setted the Romanian on the way to her first Slam last year. It remains to be seen how the 15th-seeded Swiatek manages the expectations in her first Major event since that French Open triumph.

The Pole plays Dutchwoman Arantxa Rus in the first round, and could meet the No. 17 seed Elena Rybakina in the third round.

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While the No. 7 seed Aryna Sabalenka leads the other half of this quarter, the focus will undoubtedly be on Serena Williams. The American is chasing a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title.

The 10th-seeded Williams opens against German Laura Siegemund, and could face the gritty American Alison Riske in the third round.

Meanwhile Sabalenka, whose 15-match winning streak ended this week, opens against Viktoria Kuzmova in the first round. She could face the 31st seed Shuai Zhang or former World No. 11 Alize Cornet in the third round.

Expected quarter-final: [2] Simona Halep vs [7] Aryna Sabalenka

Predicted quarterfinal result: [2] Simona Halep def. [10] Serena Williams

Dark horse: Marta Kostyuk

1st round match (es) to watch: [17] Elena Rybakina vs Vera Zvonareva, [32] Veronika Kudermetova vs Marta Kostyuk


Semifinal predictions

Sofia Kenin def. Ash Barty, Simona Halep def. Naomi Osaka

Final prediction

Simona Halep def. Sofia Kenin

Published 05 Feb 2021, 15:52 IST
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