The world’s best tennis players have congregated in Melbourne for the first Grand Slam of the year – the Australian Open.
A deluge of warm-up tournaments have taken place over the past two weeks, with stars desperate to get in the best possible form before the main event.
Taking recent performances into consideration, GiveMeSport Women picks seven tennis players who could triumph at this year’s Australian Open.
Muguruza won the French Open in 2016 and Wimbledon in 2017, earning the status of world number one in the same year. Since then, however, she has struggled to hit the same heights.
There are signs this is about to change. The 28-year-old Spaniard triumphed at the WTA Finals in November, and finished the year as world number three.
She has impressed in her only match of 2022 so far, overcoming Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia 6-1, 7-6.
Muguruza also has experience of going far in the Australian Open. She reached the final in 2020, but lost to surprise winner Sofia Kenin. Perhaps this year, she can go one step further.
Simona Halep finished 2021 as the world number 20, the first time since 2014 she did not end a year inside the top five. Her streak of winning at least one title every year since 2013 also came to an end.
Halep’s decline was largely due to a calf injury, which kept the 30-year-old out of Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
She now seems to have made a full recovery, however, and last week won her first WTA title since September 2020. The Romanian triumphed at one of the WTA 250 events at the Melbourne Summer Set.
As a result, Halep heads into the Australian Open in excellent form and with a place in the world top 10 in her sights.
Naomi Osaka has made her return after taking four months away from the court, and she seems to be enjoying her tennis again.
The four-time Grand Slam champion triumphed in her first three matches of 2022, dropping just one set while playing at the Melbourne Summer Set. She then withdrew from the tournament with an abdominal injury, but will be fine to play at the Australian Open.
Just as well, because Osaka will enter the Rod Laver Arena as the defending champion. She will be keen to re-establish herself as one of the powerhouses in women’s tennis, and where better to do so than Melbourne.
Elena Rybakina, ranked 14th in the world, is currently enjoying a brilliant start to her season.
The star from Kazakhstan reached the final of the Adelaide International last week, but lost out on the title after falling 6-3 6-2 to world number one Ashleigh Barty.
Otherwise, Rybakina defeated Storm Sanders, Marie Bouzková, Shelby Rogers, Misaki Doi during the tournament.
She then crushed US Open champion Emma Raducanu at the Sydney Tennis Classic, easing past the British teenager 6-0, 6-1.
As a result, Rybakina is one to watch at the upcoming Australian Open. She has not made it past the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam, but that could be about to change.
Veronika Kudermetova won her maiden WTA title at the Charleston Open in April and her performances on the clay surface impressed many at the time.
Now world number 30, the 24-year-old has now got off to a great start this year, reaching the final of the Melbourne Summer Set. She was comprehensively beaten 6-2, 6-3 by Simona Halep, but the experience would have shown her what it takes to overcome the best.
The Russian goes into the Australian Open in outstanding form and she could well spring a surprise or two in the weeks to come.
Iga Swiatek has been chasing her second Grand Slam title for some time now, having triumphed at the French Open in 2020.
She is yet another player to impress at the start of 2022, knocking out a number of big names at the Adelaide International last week.
The 20-year-old saw off Daria Saville, Leylah Fernandez, and Victoria Azarenka to reach the final, then falling to Ashleigh Barty 6-2, 6-4.
Swiatek prefers to play on clay but she has proved her proficiency on hard court in recent weeks – will this translate into Australian Open success?
World number one Ashleigh Barty is by far the favourite to win the Australian Open. She will have the home crowd on her side, and judging by her recent performances, her preparation for the Grand Slam has gone very well.
The 25-year-old overcame Elena Rybakina to win the WTA 500 event at the Adelaide International, before teaming up with fellow Australian Storm Sanders to earn victory in the doubles tournament.
Barty is also coming off the back of an extremely successful 2021, which included a first title at Wimbledon. The Australian Open has evaded her up until now, however. Is that about to change?