Australian Open 2022: plenty on the line!

A star-studded field is assembling Down Under for the Australian Open. There is plenty on the line for the women’s contingent at Melbourne Park.

Melbourne Muguruza 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

It’s time for the ‘Happy Slam.’

That’s right, it’s the Australian Open and the world’s finest players have descended on Melbourne Park for the opening major of the season.

The women’s game is basking in a wealth of talent at the top of the rankings – with modern day legends, major winners and teenage sensations in the mix.

Here is what is at stake in Melbourne over the next few weeks. 

Rare title defence on the cards?

Holding up the trophy in 2019 and 2021, Naomi Osaka flourishes in the heat and intensity of playing Down Under. 

The 24-year-old curtailed last season after the US Open, but is back rebooted and seeking a rare defence as the reigning champion.

Only eight women have retained the Australian Open trophy in the Open Era, the last player was Victoria Azarenka back in 2012-13.

The problem now is that the depth in women’s tennis is so impressive, that true contenders can turn up well down the rankings. Serena Williams winning Wimbledon in 2015-16 was the last instance in major play.

Osaka made her comeback at the Melbourne Summer Set 1 event earlier this month, chalking up three victories before withdrawing with an abdominal scare.

“I feel like when I come back here at the start of the year, it's like a breath of fresh air,” stated the Japanese star. “Everyone is super, super nice.  The vibes here are really good.

“So of course, my intention is to do well here. But you're playing the best players in the world, and for me I also feel like I need to play matches right now. Hopefully I get more into the groove of things.”

Should Osaka triumph, the world No.14 will join Maria Sharapova and Martina Hingis on five Grand Slam singles titles. 

Barty’s huge home chance

The standout world No.1, in scintillating form, Ash Barty has a glorious opportunity to taste Grand Slam glory on home courts.

The hype and chatter reached a crescendo last week when the 25-year-old lifted the Adelaide International title with some sublime tennis. 

The top seed blocks it all out – tunnel vision within her tight-knit team. 

“I feel good leading up to an Australian Open like I have every year. Each and every preparation is unique,” declared the Wimbledon champion.

“It has absolutely no effect on the way that I prepare or the way I'm thinking leading forward just because it's a Grand Slam. We look forward, we do what we can, then we see how we go.

“I'm looking forward to what's to come for this Australian summer. I love playing at home. I take every opportunity as best I can.”

If the world No.1 transfers her form over from Adelaide, the chasing pack face a hell of a challenge preventing a memorable Melbourne party for Barty. 

New York mark two?

Remember the astonishing edge of the seat US Open starring Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez?

Leylah Fernandez & Emma Raducanu / US Open 2021©Darren Carroll / USTA

The teenage talents defied any rankings or expectations to rocket into a maiden Grand Slam final.

Brit Raducanu triumphed all the way from qualifying, but now she’s marked and wrestling with intense scrutiny and interest. Fernandez pulled off a series of crowd-pleasing shocks over major contenders. 

Patience is required to let both captivating talents develop, but it will be intriguing to see if either can replicate their free-hitting heroics from Flushing Meadows. 

Both are seeded – Raducanu 17th and Fernandez 23rd – so they could build some momentum in earlier rounds to sharpen their skillset for the second week. 

Major stars back in the mix

Simona Halep and Garbiñe Muguruza should never really be considered as outsiders but due to a plethora of injuries or a dip in form, both have been out the spotlight until recently.

Halep picked up her first trophy since Rome 2020 at the Melbourne Summer Set 1 and is feeling physically and mentally ready to run the Grand Slam gauntlet once again.

“Confidence is growing. I feel that I have the game to win matches,” stated the 2018 Australian Open finalist. 

“I just want to be focused on myself to improve a little bit more as much as possible, and to be ready mentally, because the mental is really important in these situations after you win a tournament and you start a big one.”

Over to Muguruza and the Spaniard capped off a fine 2021 by catapulting back up the rankings to world No.3 and being crowd WTA Finals champion in Guadalajara, Mexico.

That feel good factor will surely be carried over to 2022 and a front-foot, dictating Muguruza is an imposing opponent for anyone in the draw.

Don’t be surprised if these two-time major winners force themselves into the latter stages. 

Milestones of longevity

A decade on from Azarenka’s first title triumph at Melbourne Park, the Belarusian is going for her 50th Australian Open main draw victory to cement her spot at fifth in the list of active WTA players.

There is a special mention for Alize Cornet, who will be competing in her 60th consecutive Grand Slam, which is closing in on Ai Sugiyama (62) and Francesca Schiavone (61) in the record books.