The first two rounds of the Australian Open are done and dusted. Fans, analysts and experts alike now have a pretty good idea of who the favourites are to win the tournament. In the top half of the draw only three top ten players remain. Ashleigh Barty is the only Grand Slam winner among them. As such, the Aussie sits firmly as the favourite to make the final after some dominating her opposition so far. However, In the bottom half of the draw, five Grand Slam winners remain. Simona Halep, Naomi Osaka, Garbiñe Muguruza, Iga Świątek and Serena Williams. There is also another top ten player in Aryna Sabalenka. Of those that remain, the general consensus is that Williams and Osaka are the frontrunners in the bottom half. However, it is Simona Halep who should win the Australian Open based on her record against the rest of the pack.
Halep Owns Head-to-Head Against Tournament Favorites
Osaka seems to be the player most have as favorite to win at the moment. Given the dominance she has displayed since arriving in Melbourne that isn’t much of a surprise. However, the Japanese star struggles against great counterpunchers or players with variety to their game. Her 2-2 head-to-head records against Barty and Sofia Kenin are evidence of this. Osaka likes pace on the ball and thrives against opponents who try and match her blow for blow. However, her career record against Halep is abysmal. She is currently 1-4 against the diminutive dynamo. She isn’t the only one of the elite players left in the bottom half who struggles against Halep either.
Since the start of 2018, Halep has at least an even head-to-head record against everyone left in the Australian Open who is considered a serious contender. I’m using 2018 as a starting point because it is when Halep finally got over the line in a Grand Slam. Her first win at Roland Garros gave her the belief that she belonged with the best in the game. The date also allows for a more level analysis. Barty and Osaka have only established themselves on the tour within that timeframe, and Williams was a different player before childbirth to the one she is now.
Speaking of Williams, the American is another many have as their pick to win in Melbourne. She remains a favorite despite the fact she has lost four finals out of four since he return and failed to win a set in any them. Why that is the case is a mystery to me. In fact, Williams has the fewest top ten wins of any of the contenders remaining, except for Iga Świątek. Still, 23 Grand Slam titles do carry a weight of expectation with them. However, Williams has just as much cause to be wary of Halep as any of the players left in this tournament
Williams learnt first hand how dangerous Halep can be in 2019. In the Wimbledon final that year, Halep dismantled Williams on the her favorite court and surface. The match wasn’t ever a contest and Halep walked out 6-2 6-2 winner following a display of court movement and ball redirection that was near perfection. When Halep plays at that level she is truly amazing to watch, hunting down balls with court movement that is unmatched on the women’s tour. If she finds a similar levels in this tournament the rest of the field should be very worried. In fact, most of those left in Halep’s side of the draw have reason to be concerned as is.
Rest of the Contenders Equally Unable to Best Halep in Recent Years
Halep is the only player in the group of contenders who doesn’t have a losing record against any of the other players in it since the start of 2018. She is currently level with Muguruza at two wins each. The Romanian is 1-1 with Świątek and 1-1 with Williams. She also boasts a 3-1 record against Sabalenka and a 2-1 record against Osaka in that time. The rest of the group all have losing records against at least one of the other five in the last three years.
As such, it is Simona Halep who should feel most confident about her chances of coming out of the bottom half of the draw. Halep and Osaka are also the only two in the group to have won multiple Grand Slam titles in that time frame. Given that all of those players, bar Świątek, play with similar aggression and power, it is little surprise that Halep’s superb court coverage and counterpunching game have brought her consistent success against them. The story is much the same when looking at Halep’s record against the top half of the draw.
Three real contenders remain in the top half of the draw. Karolina Plíšková and Elina Svitolina are two of them. Each is a top 10 player with a history of performing well in big tournaments. The third is world #1 Barty, who many think will make the final from her side of the draw. Belinda Bencic could also be in the conversation if her level keeps improving. However, she has scraped by in the tournament so far and so remains a dark horse for now.
Of those three, only Svitolina has a winning record against Halep in their careers. The Ukrainian is tied with Halep at two wins each since the start of 2018. Plíšková holds the same record against Halep in that time and Barty trails the Romanian 1-2. Halep is the only legitimate contender remaining who is without a losing record against any of her rivals in this tournament. Her ability to win against the top players in the women’s game isn’t limited to just those left in the Australian Open either.
No-one Left has Won More Matches Against Top Ten Opponents than Halep
Since the start of 2018, none of the players mentioned has more top ten wins than Halep’s 13 except for Barty, who has 14. Given what lies ahead for Halep in this tournament, it is certainly going to be helpful that she has so many top ten wins under her belt over the past three years. There is no doubt that Halep faces a tough road to the finals. She will likely face Świątek in the next round, a player who dismantled her at the French Open last year. Her reward for winning that match will be a showdown with either Williams or Sabalenka. Once through that she is looking at a semifinal matchup Naomi Osaka. Should she manage to navigate all of that, then Barty will most likely be waiting for her in the final. It’s a tough draw for Halep to say the least.
However, she’s beaten all of these players soundly in the past. Most of them in the last two years. The head-to-heads are close against all of them. Crucially though, none go against Halep which can’t be said for any of the other top players left. Halep will know that she has what it takes to best all comers in this tournament. It’s about time the rest of the world starts believing it too. We should all be taking a leaf out of the army of fans that follow the little ball of energy and hustle wherever she goes. The is one name we should be chanting more loudly, and that name is SI-MO-NA. Halep should be the favourite to win the Australian Open this year. She isn’t right now…but she should be.
Main Photo from Getty.