Ons Jabeur became the latest big-name casualty at the Australian Open when she suffered a second-round defeat to Marketa Vondrousova.

Jabeur has been hampered by knee and back injuries at the start of the season and the second seed suffered more pain on Rod Laver Arena, where the excellent Vondrousova sealed a 6-1 5-7 6-1 win in the early hours of Friday morning in Melbourne.

Vondrousova has been troubled by multiple wrist injuries since she was a runner-up at the French Open in 2019, but appears to have put those issues behind her.

The Czech left-hander dominated the first and final sets after Jabeur showed her fighting spirit in the second to force a decider at Melbourne Park.

A runner-up at Wimbledon and the US Open last year, tenacious Tunisian Jabeur appeared to be in some pain and struggling for breath during a match in which she made 50 unforced errors.

The world number two struck 27 winners to her opponent's 17, but followed the likes of Rafael Nadal, Casper Ruud and Emma Raducanu in making early exits when she overcooked a forehand.

Vondrousova, ranked 78th after an injury-hit 2022 season in which missed three of the four grand slams, will face compatriot Linda Fruhvirtova in round three.

 

Aryna Sabalenka was stuck in the biggest crisis of her tennis career 12 months ago, but the Belarusian big-hitter has found light at the end of a dark tunnel.

In a second-round win over Wang Xinyu at the 2022 Australian Open, Sabalenka served 19 double faults, and it was remarkable that she still pulled off the victory.

But it was no blip. In four matches, stretching from the 2021 WTA Finals to two tournaments in Adelaide at the beginning of the 2022 season, Sabalenka served a total of 74 double faults.

She considered it a success in round three at the Australian Open when she served 10 double faults against Marketa Vondrousova, such was the extent of her problem.

"I think it's more mental," Sabalenka said at the time, "because I put a lot of pressure on myself about my serve, and the last matches I was trying to control everything on my serve; my legs, my arm, the ball toss. And it was overthinking."

A year on, and Sabalenka is looking a different player, one that perhaps might finally be ready to win a singles grand slam.

That breakthrough might come this fortnight, with Sabalenka in scintillating form on Thursday as she beat Shelby Rogers 6-3 6-1 on Rod Laver Arena.

And here's the thing: she served three aces and not one double fault.

The yips have been cured.

"I worked a lot on my serve," said the 24-year-old after the Rogers match. "Like, really a lot. You can't even imagine how much I worked. I'm just super happy right now that everything is working.

"Oh, my God, I did almost everything to try to fix my serve. The whole year we were trying different things mentally, mental stuff, technique, technical, trying to breathe differently.

"I tried a lot. I watched a lot of different videos, from when I had no problems, when I had problems, trying to understand what is different."

Sabalenka had three double faults in her first-round win over Tereza Martincova, but three is fine, normal even. Zero in round two is something special.

The fifth seed will tackle Belgium's Elise Mertens on Saturday for a place in the last 16, knowing she managed to make it through to round four last year with a malfunctioning game.

The sky is the limit for Sabalenka if the serve is reliable. A three-time slam semi-finalist, her all-round numbers against Rogers were good, with 32 winners against 18 unforced errors a healthy ratio.

She reached the title match at the WTA Finals in November, a big moment at the end of a challenging year. Now a bigger goal is in her sights.

Coco Gauff may not be the most popular person on her own TikTok, but she impressed the crowds at Melbourne Park as she beat Emma Raducanu in straight sets.

In what was a much-anticipated clash at the Australian Open between the world number seven and the 2021 US Open champion, it was Gauff who emerged on top with a 6-3 7-6 (7-4) victory to seal passage to the third round.

It also made Gauff the first woman to win 100 Tour-level main draw matches before turning 19 since Caroline Wozniacki did so in 2009.

The 18-year-old took the opening set by stepping up her game on key points, breaking her British opponent twice while saving six of seven break points against her.

In an even second set, Gauff was forced to save two set points as Raducanu tried to take advantage of the American's struggling forehand.

However, Gauff hit back to force a tie-break that she won in style with a drop shot followed by a lob.

"I just told myself to hang in there and I was playing really good tennis," Gauff said in an on-court interview. "I think we both started off rocky but I think the match was good quality for the most part.

"Considering the circumstances I think both of us were nervous, this was a long-anticipated match basically since the draw came out so I'm glad that it was a good match for you guys.

"At a grand slam you have to win seven matches and you have to expect to play the best, obviously you hope it's not in the second round but what can you do?

"I feel like we handled the pressure really well and kudos to Emma, I know she had a tough week in Auckland [suffering an ankle injury] so good for her to be able to play at this level after such a scary moment."

Gauff also joked about a TikTok she recently posted that divided opinion on her parents' dancing ability.

"I posted a video online and it got like a million views and everyone was hating on my dad in the comments, so I kind of felt bad... parents really do anything for their kids so I'm glad my dad took one for the team."

Asked who is the best dancer of the three of them, she replied: "Probably my mom, at least that's what the comments said.

"They said my mom ate both of us up... a lot of people asked for a solo video just of her and I was like: 'No, I'm the star, how do I get outshined on my own TikTok?'"

World number one and tournament favourite Iga Swiatek feels second-round opponent Camila Osorio did not do much wrong despite going down 6-2 6-3 on Wednesday.

Swiatek is seeking her fourth career grand slam singles title, and the 21-year-old is yet to drop a set through two rounds at the Australian Open.

She was nearly flawless in her service game against Osorio, landing 80 per cent of her first serves fair while also committing zero double faults, and she was just as impressive when on the return.

Osorio was able to win just 31 per cent of her service points in the opening set (eight-of-26), and for the match she only held serve on two occasions from eight attempts.

Despite Swiatek's clear advantage in both phases, Osorio managed to break her serve three times, and the Polish superstar said she was made to earn every point.

"It was much tougher than this score says – it was really intense physically and Camila was really running to every ball," she said. "She didn’t give up. She didn’t give me many points for free. 

"So I needed to really work for each of them and it was tough, but I’m happy that I was proactive and trying to just play a little bit to put pressure [on her]. I’m pretty happy that I won and I can play next round."

Swiatek also shared a story about when the rain started pouring on Tuesday night in the midst of her walk, urging spectators in jest to come to her aid if a similar situation arises in the future.

"In Melbourne it’s usually sunny, except today and yesterday," she said. "So I need to change my plans. 

"Yesterday I actually went for a walk at 7[pm] and it started raining, and I was just hiding under the tree, waiting for like 30 minutes.

"So if there’s anybody who’s going to see me tonight walking in the rain, please save me, give me an umbrella or something."

Swiatek's march to what would be her first Australian Open final continues when she takes on the winner between Cristina Bucsa and Bianca Andreescu in the third round.

Ons Jabeur said a knee problem presents her with "a great challenge" at the Australian Open as she looks to reach a third successive grand slam final.

Tamara Zidansek, the world number 98, gave Jabeur plenty to think about in round one on Tuesday, but the Slovenian eventually faded as the second seed came through a 7-6 (10-8) 4-6 6-1 winner.

Two hours and 17 minutes will have been longer than Jabeur wanted to stay out on Rod Laver Arena, but she was pleased to at least finish strongly.

The Tunisian is making a habit of getting through to major finals, losing to Elena Rybakina at Wimbledon and Iga Swiatek at the US Open, but she dearly wants to be a winner on such an occasion.

That may still happen in Australia, but Jabeur had taping on her right knee and may find it is beyond her to go deep into the tournament this fortnight. She said the performance was "not the way I wanted to play", and there seems little doubt the knee was a factor.

"It's not a big injury, but sometimes it might bother me," Jabeur said.

"I try to take it one day at a time. It's a great challenge. I'm going to challenge myself and see if I cannot play 100 per cent, but we'll try to push and be able to do something with it for sure."

Her back has also been an issue in recent weeks, and Jabeur had the crowd in creases by saying she would demand a late-night massage from her husband. She quickly clarified that was all she was asking from him, pointing out he is her fitness coach.

Jabeur expects to have a "light practice" on Wednesday ahead of facing Marketa Vondrousova or Alison Riske-Amritraj in round two the following day.

In the second set, she trailed 5-3 but snatched a break back and would have hoped to then get the job done in straight sets, only to be broken herself.

Iga Swiatek, the top seed, was in a similar situation in her opener against Jule Niemeier on Monday, managing to get the job done in two rather than go to a decider.

"It's nice to see Iga from 5-3 [winning] 7-5. I wanted to do that today, but I'm not Iga," Jabeur said. "Better 6-1 in the third set."

Andy Murray pulled off a stunning victory over Matteo Berrettini at the Australian Open as the five-time runner-up enjoyed another big moment in Melbourne.

Unseeded this year, former world number one Murray survived a match point against him to take a first-round thriller against the Italian 13th seed.

Murray had not lost a grand slam match after winning the first two sets since a third-round clash against David Nalbandian at Wimbledon in 2005, his first grand slam main-draw appearance.

Yet he almost let such a lead slip away this time, before digging deep for a 6-3 6-3 4-6 6-7 (7-9) 7-6 (10-6) victory, achieved in four hours and 49 minutes.

Five-time Australian Open runner-up Murray faced a daunting opener, but both men would have hoped for a kinder draw.

It seemed to be going firmly the 35-year-old Scot's way when he swept through the opening two sets, but back came Berrettini to level up, edging a tight fourth that could have gone either way.

Berrettini had the contest at his mercy at match point against Murray's serve at 5-4 in the decider, only to clatter a close-range backhand into the net when it seemed sure he would put away a winner.

The stakes were high as the match entered a final-set tie-break, and when Murray sped into a 5-0 lead he looked firmly in control. There were slight wobbles from that point, but Murray made sure, helped by a lucky net cord on match point as a service return trickled over.

"I didn't know that," Murray said afterwards, when told about his record when leading matches by two sets.

Berrettini lost his first meeting with Murray, which came in Beijing in 2019, but the Italian won all three of their next matches, on grass at London's Queen's Club and Stuttgart before a US Open victory last September.

Former Wimbledon and US Open winner Murray, still playing thanks to his metal hip, expects Tuesday's match on a scorching day in Melbourne to take a toll. 

"I'll be feeling this, this evening and tomorrow, but right now I'm unbelievably happy, very proud of myself," Murray said in an on-court interview.

"I've put a lot of work into the last few months with my team who are here to give me an opportunity to perform on stadiums like this and matches like this, against players like Matteo, and it paid off tonight."

Iga Swiatek believes people sometimes treat her like a "robot who has to win all the time" and are focused too much on "numbers and statistics."

Swiatek came through her first-round match at the Australian Open on Monday as she beat Jule Niemeier 6-4 7-5, though she trailed 5-3 in the second set before winning four-straight games.

The world number one will face Camila Osorio in the second round on Wednesday, and admitted she had needed to find another gear to overcome her German opponent.

"I knew that I could get my focus up a little bit, [increase] the intensity a little bit more. So I did that," she said.

"But my goal for my next matches is not being in those situations and not starting the set with losing a break, but it happens. I'm happy that I was able to come back. It wasn't like I needed to really change a lot. I just needed to have more intensity."

After an impressive 2022 season, that saw her win the French Open and US Open, expectations have risen around Swiatek, which the 21-year-old has noticed.

"For sure, I feel like people are really focused on the numbers and on the statistics," she said. "I feel like they're looking at those matches not seeing that we are still people, and we have to really fight for it. 

"I know that I also put a lot of expectations on myself, but I'm working on that. It just feels like sometimes they're not treating you still as a human, but more like a robot who has to win."

Swiatek has now won the first round in a grand slam tournament in 15 of her previous 16 appearances, but admitted she only developed confidence in playing on hard courts last year.

"At the beginning of last year I didn't have that much confidence that I can also win big titles on hard court because all of them basically happened last season," she said.

"Also before I think the media kind of described me as a clay court player. Maybe that got into me a little bit. But, yeah, for sure working with [coach] Tomasz [Wiktorowski], I just felt like I can be more aggressive on hard court. I don't have to be the baseline player. I really used that in my matches, then the results kind of showed me that I'm going right direction."

Iga Swiatek made it through to the second round of the Australian Open with a 6-4 7-5 win against Jule Niemeier, though was again tested by the German.

In a rematch of their US Open fourth-round match in which Swiatek had to recover from a set down before going on to ultimately win the tournament, Niemeier gave Swiatek problems again with her power and ability to utilise the fast conditions.

An even first set saw Swiatek unable to find a break point until she was 5-4 ahead, before forcing two set points, eventually taking the second as a strong forehand could only be returned into the net.

Niemeier came out in the second set determined to make amends, though, breaking Swiatek in the opening game as she looked to overwhelm the Pole.

The 23-year-old belied her status as the world number 69, causing the top seed problems as she mixed power hitting with some nice drop shots but, as she served for the set, Swiatek turned up the dial and forced the break to level at 5-5.

After holding her own serve it looked like the second set would head to a tie-break, but Swiatek's increase in intensity made the difference again as some expertly placed deep and wide shots caused another break as she sealed a straight-sets win.

"Honestly I wanted to be focused on myself because she can serve amazing," Swiatek said in her on-court interview. "She uses fast conditions so I just wanted to think what I could do to push her back.

"I'm pretty happy I got through this match because the fist round is always tricky and playing Jule is always tricky."

Data slam: Swiatek takes advantage of second serve

Niemeier's serve gave Swiatek problems throughout, but the Pole was ruthless when she was given rare opportunities.

Despite a success on her first serve of 71 per cent (32/45), Niemeier could only win 35 per cent on her second (9/26).

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Swiatek – 20/28

Niemeier – 18/29

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Swiatek – 0/3

Niemeier – 3/1

BREAK POINTS WON

Swiatek – 3/5

Niemeier – 1/3

Coco Gauff believes all the pressure will be on Emma Raducanu when the two face each other in the second round of the Australian Open.

Neither had any difficulties in their opening matches of the tournament at Melbourne Park on Monday, with Gauff easing past Katerina Siniakova 6-1 6-4 while Raducanu dispatched Tamara Korpatsch 6-3 6-2.

Gauff pointed to the pressure Raducanu has faced since her surprise US Open win in 2021 and thinks that her opponent being the main British hope could play to her advantage. 

"Obviously she's gone through a lot of pressure, bursting onto the scene. I feel like probably more than I have experienced coming to win a slam," Gauff said.

"Especially being from the UK, the first British person to do something in a long time, probably is a lot more pressure than what I'm used to being an American. Obviously I was a lot younger when I got the attention, so I definitely think handling it at an older age is a little bit easier than at 15. But also, at the same time, I didn't win a slam.

"There's always, for American fans, someone to look to. Whereas I feel like, the British, it's just her. There's other British players, but no one has done what she's done and gotten that far in a slam."

Raducanu also sealed her passage to the second round without much fuss as she put her recent injury issues behind her with a convincing win over Korpatsch.

"I'm obviously really happy to be through to the second round," Raducanu said. "It was always going to be difficult, coming in with so little prep and being out there.

"Everything I've done has been quite controlled the last week. So to test it out in a real match and with the unpredictability and stuff, I was just getting used to it in the beginning. But it felt good."

Despite being a grand slam winner, Raducanu came into the tournament 77th in the WTA rankings, 70 places below Gauff, but the 20-year-old is looking forward to facing another player she sees as part of the next generation.

"I'm really looking forward to this match," she added. "I'm very up for it. Coco has obviously done a lot of great things and she's playing well.

"I think we're both good, young players, we're both coming through, part of the next generation of tennis, really. It's going to be a great match."

Coco Gauff wants to prove she is more than simply a "teenage phenomenon" as she bids to become a grand slam champion at the Australian Open.

The 18-year-old faces Katerina Siniakova in the first round in Melbourne on Monday, ranked as the seventh seed for the first major of the year.

Gauff has enjoyed a remarkable start to her career, winning the first of three WTA Tour singles titles at the age of just 15 at the 2019 Linz Open.

She reached the last 16 at Wimbledon in the same year after defeating Venus Williams in the opening round, but Gauff is hungry to make her reputation more than just an age thing as she seeks a first major.

"Starting another season as an established pro feels pretty weird. I'm still only 18, but I don't feel like the new kid anymore," she said in a BBC Sport column on Sunday.

"I feel I'm ready to leave behind the tag of 'teenage phenomenon'. Now it is time to be known as a grand slam champion.

"I feel like all the players still call me a baby, and usually I'm still one of the youngest in the draw, but I've been around for a while. My main ambition for 2023 is winning a grand slam title. That's the biggest goal.

"It is something I have chased for my whole life and I came so close last year by reaching the French Open final. If winning a major doesn't happen this year, I will continue to chase this dream."

Gauff was a 6-1 6-3 loser to Iga Swiatek in the Roland Garros final last year, with the Pole dominating the WTA as she claimed eight titles, including the French Open and US Open.

Teenager Gauff was tearful after that match in Paris but has started this season by winning the Auckland Open, becoming the sixth American player to secure three or more WTA-level titles in the last 40 years before turning 19.

Monica Seles, Jennifer Capriati, Lindsay Davenport, Venus and Serena Williams were the others to achieve that feat and Gauff hopes she can learn from previous failures to succeed in Australia this month.

The world number seven added: "I know I can win a grand slam title. Now it is about making the final step. One of my other goals was to win a WTA Tour title – I didn't do that last year – and I have already that checked off by winning in Auckland last week.

"The signs are good and hopefully this success continues throughout the season."

If successful, Gauff could become the first teenage female player to reach the final at the Australian Open since Maria Sharapova in 2007 and the first to win the title since Martina Hingis in 1999.

Nick Kyrgios is delighted to see tennis "on the map again" following the launch of the 'Break Point' documentary.

The Australian is one of a number of ATP and WTA players to feature in the Netflix series, which was made available on Friday.

Kyrgios gets his Australian Open campaign underway this week against Roman Safiullin, and expressed his excitement about the future of the sport.

"[The documentary is a] massive opportunity for my brand to get out there," Kyrgios told the ATP Tour website. "It's just so important for tennis. I think we've got so many great personalities, so many young personalities, and so many colourful athletes.

"Frances [Tiafoe], [Carlos] Alcaraz, Taylor Fritz, these guys are great tennis players and great people as well.

"I think when the big three settle down and end up retiring, it's so important that these guys are on showcase globally.

"Tennis is one of the most global sports in the world. We need it to be successful."

Kyrgios won the doubles at the Australian Open last year with Thanasi Kokkinakis, before reaching the singles final at Wimbledon in what was a productive season for the 27-year-old.

"I'm definitely a fun kid who grew up in a very quiet sort of town with my family. It's obviously pretty cool to see how far I've come," Kyrgios added.

"But I think the later episodes as well, following me around Wimbledon, that type of stuff, will be super exciting.

"I'm just glad that tennis is on the map again. I think it's one of the main talking points, one of the biggest sports right now, obviously with the Netflix documentary dropping."

The Professional Tennis Players Association is committed to equal pay for men and women at grand slam level, according to the man who teamed up with Novak Djokovic to launch the organisation.

Vasek Pospisil, whose on-court doubles efforts helped Canada win the Davis Cup for the first time in November, said the PTPA would "fight for both sides" in its efforts to improve players' prospects throughout the sport.

The breakaway union has caused controversy, with the ATP and WTA, which run the men's and women's tours, adamant they already have significant player representation when it comes to making decisions in the best interests of tennis.

Djokovic quit as president of the ATP player council to become the figurehead of the PTPA, which was launched at the height of the pandemic during the 2020 US Open.

There was initial criticism of the PTPA when no women appeared to be involved.

However, Pospisil said at the time discussions were ongoing, and ahead of the upcoming Australian Open, its first executive committee was unveiled, consisting of four men and four women.

Joining Djokovic and Pospisil are Hubert Hurkacz and John Isner, plus WTA players Paula Badosa, Ons Jabeur, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Zheng Saisai.

Pay has been equal at all the grand slams since 2007, when Wimbledon announced it would reward women the same amount it pays men.

Asked about equal pay at the four majors and the PTPA's position, Pospisil told Stats Perform: "From day one, we always knew that this would only be successful with the women, and that has always been our goal. And so we're really happy that we're gaining a lot of traction now on the women's side.

"Currently, there is equal pay at the grand slam level, I believe, so that's obviously amazing.

"It is a joint organisation, both men and women, and we'll do everything to fight for both sides.

"Obviously, they're separate tours. The WTA, ATP, and grand slams are joined, of course. So, the staff will have their hands full with trying to advocate for both sides.

"It's a unified player association for both men and women, and we're really proud of that and where we're going."

Those already involved, and those the PTPA will hope to attract, are being advised the union is aiming to bolster the rights – and at the bottom line, the earning potential – of all involved.

There is currently significantly more money on offer on the ATP tour than on the WTA circuit, which points to issues of inequality remaining in the sport.

It has been known in recent times for some high-profile tournaments, where tours converge, to pay its men's champion more than its title-winning woman. This is despite events on both tours being best-of-three-set matches, whereas in the slams women play best-of-three and men play best-of-five, a matter that has long been a trigger for equal-pay debate.

Pospisil believes the WTA has a "smart and passionate" group of eight on its ExCo and said the "energy was amazing" when the group met for dinner on Thursday in Melbourne.

"I just have such a good feeling after a few years of working on this," Pospisil said. "To finally be at the stage where we're ready to go, are launching, got everything we need, and we have amazing player board reps that honestly we couldn't be happier with."

Djokovic, a 21-time singles grand slam winner, is at the forefront, and Pospisil said the 35-year-old Serbian's role has been crucial.

"I feel like you need somebody that is at the top of the sport," Pospisil said. "So, I just think all the players and our organisation, we're very lucky that he's so supportive and that he's stuck his neck out and is fighting for what he believes in and what he believes is right."

Iga Swiatek had a reminder of the stellar rivalry that never was when she practised alongside Ash Barty on Saturday ahead of the Australian Open.

Australian Barty is the reigning women's singles champion at Melbourne Park, but she retired just weeks after lifting the trophy last year.

That shock decision from the then 25-year-old saw a figurehead of the WTA Tour make way, and Swiatek has taken her place as the undisputed world number one, saying Barty has inspired her to hit those heights.

The prospect of Barty and an ever-improving Swiatek fighting for the tour's biggest titles was dashed, and they only ever played twice, with Barty winning both times.

Barty announced on January 6 she is pregnant, and she appears to have no inclination to perform a retirement U-turn.

"For sure, when she retired, I felt like she still had the best tennis out there," Swiatek said after their light-hearted court session.

"So, I was pretty sad that I'm not going to be able to compete against her and maybe win.

"But on the other hand, she gave me a lot in terms of my motivation and my kind of willingness to practise even more and to have more variety on court.

"When I played against her, I felt like she just has all these different game styles and slice. Even in her book, she says she has five types of slice. I don't know how that's possible. I still haven't figured out only one type.

"I have huge respect for Ash. She really gave me huge motivation at the beginning of last season to get even better. I'm kind of grateful for that."

Swiatek will play the first night session match on Rod Laver Arena at this year's championships, taking on a familiar foe in Germany's Jule Niemeier.

At the US Open last September, the heavy-hitting Niemeier led by a set and a break against Swiatek in the fourth round, only to let the Pole back in and eventually surrender the third set 6-0. Swiatek went on to win the title, her third grand slam trophy success.

Niemeier also reached the Wimbledon quarter-finals, and Swiatek is wary of the opening test that awaits.

"We played at the US Open, and you saw how intense that match was, how tough," Swiatek said. "It's not going to be easy.

"But on the other hand, any match in a grand slam is always more intense and more stressful than other tournaments. I'll be ready for it.

"It's nice also that we played not so long ago, so I can take a lot from that match. Now I know how her ball feels on the racket. So, we'll see. But she has the same."

Emma Raducanu is "in a good place" ahead of the Australian Open after an ankle injury threatened her participation.

Raducanu was left in tears after retiring against Viktoria Kuzmova in their round-of-16 match at the ASB Classic.

The 20-year-old won the first set 6-0, but after losing the second set 7-5, Raducanu was unable to continue, sparking fears over her ability to play in the Australian Open in just 11 days.

But with her tournament opener against Tamara Korpatsch now just two days away, the 2021 US Open champion eased fears over her fitness, saying she "fully trusts" her ankle.

"I've been able to do preparation, albeit more limited than usual," Raducanu told reporters on Saturday. "But I'm feeling in a good place to go out there and give it my best shot.

"We were thrown a bit of a curveball but we remained optimistic. It's been a team effort to get me to this place. We've been building it up pretty gradually.

"For the ankle, I feel really good. It's going to be more introducing certain things, and the rate at which we've had to do it has been really quick.

"But I've not really played much tennis ever in my career, so I'm kind of used to it. And I'm not stressed about lack of tennis that much."

In Melbourne, Raducanu will be aiming to go beyond the second round of a grand slam for the first time since her incredible US Open heroics in 2021.

Iga Swiatek starts the Australian Open as almost as strong a favourite to win the women's singles as Novak Djokovic is for the men's event.

Considering Djokovic is a nine-time champion in Melbourne, and Swiatek has never reached the final, that is some going and indicative of the Polish player's dominance on the WTA Tour over the last 11 months.

Swiatek ended last year with eight titles to her name, winning the French Open and US Open among them, and the 21-year-old has accrued more than twice as many ranking points as the next player on the WTA list, Ons Jabeur.

Her ascent to become the dominant woman in tennis has been remarkable, and Swiatek has also earned admiration for her efforts to raise funds for children in war-hit Ukraine.

But is she such an outstanding favourite for the Melbourne Park title as the odds-makers have it?

Since the US Open, she has been a champion at just one – modest by her standards – of the four tournaments she has contested, including the United Cup team event.

Here, Stats Perform looks at five others who might have a say in the destination of the year's first major.

Jessica Pegula

Swiatek was reduced to tears after a 6-2 6-2 drubbing by Pegula on January 6 at the United Cup, her first loss of the year.

She later described Pegula's performance as "the perfect match", and will hope the American cannot always rise to that level.

"It's always hard when you lose, especially when you're playing for the team and your country," Swiatek said at the time, explaining her post-match tears.

Swiatek had won all four of the matches they contested in 2022, dropping only one set, with quarter-final wins on the way to her two grand slam triumphs included in that set.

The result in Sydney, therefore, might have been just a blip, but Pegula is number three in the world for a reason, and Swiatek will surely want to avoid her over the coming fortnight.

Coco Gauff

Is now Gauff's time? There's a question that has been buzzing around the tennis circuit for at least a couple of seasons, despite the American being just 18 years old.

Time, it should be clear, is firmly on her side. She soared to fourth in the rankings in October but has slipped a little since, while remaining firmly established in the top 10.

Given her great talent, Gauff should be resident in the top 10 for many years to come, so we can afford to wait before watching her fly. The sometimes-erratic forehand remains in need of fine-tuning, and Gauff began this year with just two career singles titles to her name after missing out on a trophy in the 2022 season.

However, she reached a first grand slam final last June, losing to Swiatek in Paris, and began 2023 by capturing a title in Auckland where, as top seed, she made light work of the field.

The victory made her the sixth American player to secure three or more WTA-level titles before turning 19 in the last 40 years, after slam winners Monica Seles, Jennifer Capriati, Lindsay Davenport, Venus and Serena Williams.

That is some company for Gauff, who will face Katerina Siniakova in the first rout in Melbourne, to be keeping, and her time will come. It might even come in Melbourne.

 

Ons Jabeur

After finishing runner-up to Elena Rybakina at Wimbledon and Swiatek at the US Open, Jabeur is targeting a third successive slam final.

The Tunisian would win most popularity contests on the Tour, but she wants one of the big trophies now, and has to be seen as a strong contender in Australia.

Her preparations took a knock with a loss to 18-year-old Czech Linda Noskova at Adelaide International 1, but that will only have made Jabeur work harder in the build-up to the major.

She was gutted to have to pull out of the Australian Open with a back injury last year, and a first-round loss at the French Open followed, but Jabeur came good at the next two majors, albeit falling at the final hurdle.

Aryna Sabalenka

At this time last year, Sabalenka was in crisis, her serve a massive weakness as she struggled to deliver the ball safely.

She recovered from going a set down in three consecutive matches at the Australian Open before losing a rollicking tussle in round four with Estonian veteran and upset specialist Kaia Kanepi.

Sabalenka served a wretched 15 double faults in that match, which was sadly more or less par for her in the early stages of the 2022 season, but the Belarusian got her act together, overcome those yips, and finished the year strongly.

A semi-final run at the US Open was followed by an appearance in the WTA Finals title match, where she lost a close encounter with Caroline Garcia.

Sabalenka began this year not with the serving jitters, but with the Adelaide International 1 title, not dropping a set all week.

She has a big game and with it growing confidence. At the age of 24, she should be entering her prime years, and 2023 could be a special 12 months for the woman with the tiger tattoo.

Zheng Qinwen

The WTA's 2022 Newcomer of the Year winner, Zheng is a 20-year-old Chinese player who could soon follow in the footsteps of compatriot Li Na and begin scooping the biggest prizes in tennis.

How soon? Well, probably not quite yet, but then again very few picked out the then 54th-ranked Swiatek to win the 2020 French Open, the moment that launched her to stardom.

Zheng has rocketed to 30th in the rankings, having begun last year at 126th on the WTA list, and should be considered capable of halving her ranking over this season.

She first came to major prominence at the French Open, when she defeated Simona Halep and for a while also had Swiatek's number in their fourth-round match, winning the first set before menstrual cramps and a leg problem caused her to lose momentum.

The WTA Tour is a learning curve and slam-level success might not come immediately for Zheng, but that newcomer award came her way because she is a player shaping up to have a big say in the sport's future. Along with the likes of Gauff and Swiatek, she could still be a big factor in a decade's time.

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