After a tricky and difficult build-up, this year’s Australian Open Women’s singles tournament begins on February 8. Dan Weston looks at the contenders for the title, and what their stats and form suggest about their chances.
Australian Open 2021: Women's singles build-up
If the requirement for players to quarantine for two weeks on arrival to Australia hasn’t complicated players’ preparations enough in advance of the Australian Open, the suspension of the warm-up tournaments until all players returned a negative COVID-19 test certainly exacerbated matters.
While the start date hasn’t been postponed again from February 8, it is safe to say that a vast majority of players will have approached this tournament in unfamiliar circumstances.
A further uncharacteristic feature of this year’s tournament is the likely change in temperature. The weather forecast suggests it will be considerably cooler than most recent years, with this year’s event being played almost a month later than its usual spot in the calendar. Whether this will change conditions markedly is unknown, with historical data suggesting conditions are likely to be a little quicker at Melbourne Park than on the average hard court.
Australian Open Women's singles: Who are the favourites?
As is almost always the case in recent years, there is an extremely competitive feel to the field. A total of 12 players are currently priced below 20.00 with Pinnacle, which suitably illustrates that there isn’t an outstanding player currently on tour.
Ashleigh Barty may struggle, having not played in 2020 after the WTA tour stopped in March.
Naomi Osaka (5.50*) is the favourite, and having won three of the last five hard court Grand Slams, this appears very justified. However, it’s prudent to point out that when Osaka won the US Open last September, the draw opened up for her and she only faced one player seeded in the top 20.
Aryna Sabalenka and Ashleigh Barty are the other two players currently in single-digit pricing. Sabalenka, listed as second favourite at 8.64*, entered the warm-up events amidst a 15-match unbeaten run, and despite a loss last week, comes into the tournament having consistently demonstrated high performance levels as of late.
The opposite is rather true of Barty, who will have market support but didn’t play in 2020 after the WTA tour stopped in March. It’s very difficult to have a confident view of Barty’s chances in her home Grand Slam.
There are also question marks over many of the players priced between 10.00 and 20.00. French Open champion Iga Swiatek (10.58*) presently looks better on clay, and this is also arguably the case for Simona Halep (10.61*).
Serena Williams (12.19*) still boasts solid data but hasn’t received much market support, while Bianca Andreescu (13.20*) is a young player with superb hard court numbers, but has endured over a year away from tour with injury.
A number of top 10 regulars are also in this price bracket, including Petra Kvitova (13.34*), Victoria Azarenka (15.23*), Garbine Muguruza (17.27*), and Karolina Pliskova (18.28*). Azarenka had a very strong post-lockdown spell towards the end of last season and looked back to something around her peak level from previous years, while Kvitova still looks one of the better players on tour and will enjoy quicker conditions if the court speed aligns with historical trends.
Pliskova probably would also benefit from quicker conditions, but she doesn’t look at the level which got her to world number one in 2017. The Czech big-server still has only reached one Grand Slam final in her entire career.
Australian Open Women's singles: Who are the outsiders?
Among the bigger prices, Elise Mertens (46.71*) has strong hard court data, while Elena Rybakina (26.41*) is a player tipped to realise high potential levels. The likes of Sloane Stephens and Jelena Ostapenko, among others, don’t have strong 12 to 18-month data in line with their general reputation levels, and it will be interesting to see if they can get back to their previous standards which saw them both win Grand Slams in 2017.
With numerous players likely to be very confident of reaching the business end of this year’s tournament, but many of these also having more questions than answers surrounding their potential performance level, the women’s tournament promises to be fascinating and extremely competitive in equal measure.
Another first-time Slam winner, like we saw with Swiatek in Paris late last year, is fairly plausible.
You can also check out Dan's preview of the Men's singles tournament at this year's Australian Open.