2022 Australian Open Women’s Singles Roundtable Predictions: Champion, Dark Horse, and Early Exit

Ash Barty in action at the WTA Adelaide International.
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Ahead of the first Grand Slam of 2022, four Last Word on Tennis writers–Vithun Illankovan (@VitIllankovan), Damian Kust (@damiankust), Fraser Learmonth, and Andy Watson–made their Australian Open predictions for the Women’s Singles tournament. We will also have a separate roundtable for the men’s singles.

Australian Open Women’s Singles Roundtable Predictions

Champion – Who will win the US Open?

Vithun: (3) Garbiñe Muguruza [ESP]

When the 2021 WTA season concluded, I was confident Karolina Pliskova would finally win her maiden Grand Slam at this year’s Australian Open. Unfortunately, she subsequently pulled out of the tournament with injury. Therefore, I predict her pigeon Garbiñe Muguruza to be victorious in her absence. The Spaniard finished the 2021 season with the prestigious WTA Finals title (with her only defeat at the tournament coming to Pliskova) and that has been a good omen for winning the Australian open the following year. In addition, Muguruza lost to the eventual champion at the last two Australian Opens–in 2020, she was runner-up to Sofia Kenin coming within four games of victory and in 2021 she had two match points in her 4th Round match against Naomi Osaka. To add to her hopes Kenin has been awful since her spectacular 2020 season and Osaka has a poor 8-4 record in tournaments as defending champion, failing to reach the quarterfinals in any of her title defense attempts. The combination of omens, her tournament history, demise of her rivals and there being 0% chance she can face Pliskova (whom she is 2-10 against) en route to the title is why I am predicting Muguruza to win in Melbourne.

Damian: (14) Simona Halep [ROU]

As per usual, the women’s side is significantly more open than the men’s. Simona Halep is a former champion of the Australian Open and played extremely well to win the WTA 250 event in Melbourne. She’s back in good health and seems to have regained the hunger and motivation to compete. Almost every single title favorite has a tough draw and Halep also didn’t avoid one with Muguruza as her projected fourth-round opponent. I think the combination of her experience and lots of confidence coming from a great start to the season can be deadly here.

Fraser: (5) Maria Sakkari [GRE]

Maria Sakkari will be the women’s champion this year. The Greek probably should have won Roland Garros last year and was the favourite to win the US Open as well heading into the semifinals. Sakkari has improved both in terms of level of play and results every year for the last 10 years. If that pattern holds true she should at least make a Grand Slam final this year. I think she goes one better and wins one. It could be any of them as she is a real threat on all surfaces, so why not the first of the year.

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Andy: (1) Ashleigh Barty [AUS]

No Barty, no party. The Australian may well end up succumbing to the home pressure and her draw is really tough, but I cannot ignore her stats profile. Her win% in 2021 was higher than everyone except Osaka and her hold/break totals were far above anyone else showing a high level of dominance in the matches she played. However, the big thing that sways it for me is her recent record against the best. She has won nine of her last ten matches against fellow top ten players. With her draw, that ability to raise her game will be tested to the max!

Dark Horse – Who will go furthest in the draw, relative to their seeding (or ranking)?

Vithun: (23) Leylah Fernandez [CAN]

Despite not ending up with the winner’s trophy, Fernandez seems the superior player amongst last year’s surprise US Open finalists. Emma Raducanu beat Fernandez in that final but the Brit benefitted from arguably the easiest draw in Grand Slam history. None of her opponents were in the Top 10 and they were mentally fatigued from big wins in the previous round(s) so were not able to re-energize against an unheralded player. Most also put in awful performances against her from nerves arising from the perceived embarrassment of losing to a low-ranked teenager. Without the favorable circumstances she had at the US Open, Raducanu’s mediocrity has started to be exposed, most recently with a 0-6, 1-6 defeat to Elina Rybakina in Sydney.

Fernandez has competed better in comparison since the US Open final and seems more likely to make inroads in Melbourne. The two higher-ranked seeds in her eighth of the draw are Angelique Kerber and Aryna Sabalenka. Kerber has only advanced past the 4th Round at four of her 28 previous hard court Grand Slam (main draw) appearances and has not played any matches in 2022. Despite being World No.2, Sabalenka has lost both her matches this year and is suffering serving struggles which should be alarming for anyone in the Top 200, although this is an indicator of the current state of the WTA Tour. In addition, Sabalenka reached the semi-finals at the last two Grand Slams and WTA logic would suggest that three consecutive deep Slam runs is unlikely. Taking all this into account, it seems Fernandez may be primed for another deep run at a Grand Slam.

Damian: (24) Victoria Azarenka [BLR]

Is it a crazy pick? Probably not, but only if the Belarusian is 100% fit. Since the start of 2021, she had to withdraw from a total of five tournaments, always after winning at least one round in that same event. That’s why her last year’s campaign isn’t as impressive as it should have been. If you look at her losses of late, it’s almost only the elite. That peak level that saw her win this tournament twice is still there somewhere and in a section (or even a quarter) of seeds with question marks, I fancy her to come out on top. If health allows.

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Fraser: (8) Paula Badosa [ESP]

Paula Badosa Gibert has established herself as a real force on the WTA Tour. She’s also fresh off a title in Sydney last week. That kind of form is hard to ignore and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her making at least the quarterfinals here. 12 months ago, no one would have her anywhere near a Grand Slam trophy. That certainly isn’t the case this year and she will be a dark horse at the very least in most big tournaments this year.

Andy: (24) Victoria Azarenka [BLR]

She is a top seed disguised as a lower seed. I see her as a real threat in this tournament and if she wasn’t on the Barty/Osaka side of the draw she might’ve been my pick to win the whole thing. Mentions for Ann Li and Jessica Pegula who could both do well.

Early Exit – Who will suffer the earliest exit, relative to their seeding (or ranking)?

Vithun: (11) Sofia Kenin [USA]

Since her amazing 2020 season, the tennis that Sofia Kenin has been serving us has sadly not been of any quality. The draw has also not been kind to the Australian Open champion from two years ago, with her opening round match against compatriot Madison Keys who just won the title in Adelaide. Therefore, an opening round loss seems on the cards. Aryna Sabalenka could also be in danger, as her serving in 2022 has been so disappointing, even the infamous poor server Sara Errani wouldn’t want it. Reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu may be also be vulnerable as she opens up her Australian Open campaign against 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens, although the Brit comes across as a player who is only bothered about Grand Slams so I wouldn’t be surprised if she finds some form.

Damian: (11) Sofia Kenin [USA]

Looking at recent form, Aryna Sabalenka would be a natural pick, but I think the Belarusian will win a few rounds as her draw is actually pretty pleasant. Sofia Kenin, on the other hand, faces Madison Keys in a match where I don’t consider her as the favorite in the slightest. In a few years, will we think of the American as a great champion or a one-season wonder? I hope not, but most signs seem to point towards the latter.

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Fraser: (2) Aryna Sabalenka [BLR]

Aryna Sabalenka is in trouble down under. The world #2 has suffered back-to-back first round exits in her warmup events for the Australian Open. That means she enters the tournament with very little form and no real confidence to speak of. She has the talent to overcome all that if she finds her best tennis. However, the women’s game is so deep at the moment and anyone inside the top 100 could topple her if she is off her game as she has been in recent weeks. 2022 should still be a great year for the Belarusian, but I think she will crash out early here and be glad to see the back of Australia.

Andy: (17) Emma Raducanu [GBR]

I think the Brit will go out in round one. I also think that Sofia Kenin will go out in round one and Aryna Sabalenka will have an early exit as well. Her double fault count is astronomical at the moment.

Main Photo from Getty.