5 Outsiders Who Could Win The 2021 Australian Open Women's Singles Title
The truth is it wasn’t Covid which tipped the WTA on its head, with the sport already existing it a blissful hurricane of competitive diversity and unprecedented talent.
The tennis that was played in 2020 only spoke to the unique WTA times we’re living in, with Sofia Kenin first shocking everyone by claiming the Australian Open along with Iga Switak demolishing the French Open field later in the year.
While these two youngsters were the latest to roll off the the seemingly never-ending conveyor belt of prestigious young talent on tour, the elder brigade was still making its voice heard as well. Victoria Azarenka returned to prominence reaching the US Open final, while a certain Serena Williams fired home a tour-leading 200 aces and remains firmly in the frame for a 24th Grand Slam crown.
With this week’s Australian Open is set to commence, it’s well worth reflecting on the fact that no less than 12 different women have shared the last 18 available majors, while the world #1 mantle has changed hands no less than 13 times over the last three years
It’s the kind of top-tier elasticity any major sporting code in the world would crawl over broken glass to experience, while tennis fans get to sit back and revel in the knowledge of how deliriously wide open each event is.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at five of the top prospects in Melbourne outside of the two favourites in three-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka, and current world #1, Ashleigh Barty.
Stats Insider Hard Court Rank: 19
Sure, she’s the third favourite and isn’t perhaps your definition of an outsider, but there mightn’t be too many more opportunities we’ll see double digit odds posted beside the young Belarusian’s name on the eve of a Grand Slam. At just 22, Sabalenka has already gobbled up 9 WTA titles while entrenching herself within the sports top-ten. However where Sabalenka has struggled thus far is her performances on the big stage, and particularly at grand slam level where she’s yet to graduate beyond the Round of 16. In fact, she has just a 48% win record at slam level which is in sharp contrast to the robust 77.7% she’s dialled up since the start of 2020.
When Sabalenka’s game is on, she’s as destructive as anyone on tour, and if she’s able to harness that kind of form over two weeks, it won’t be long until she’s showered in confetti, celebrating her maiden Slam win.
Key Stat: 4-7- That’s Sabalenka’s less than glittering record at Grand Slam Level whenever there’s been a top-50 player on the other side of the net. Clearly, that number simply won’t cut it at the highest level.
The first title of the 2021 WTA season is Aryna Sabalenka’s!— Biola Solace-Chukwu (@Beeorlicious) January 13, 2021
The Belarusian captures her third consecutive title, 9th career title with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Veronika Kudermetova in Abu Dhabi.
15 matches unbeaten. 🙌🏾💪🏾#AbuDhabiWTA pic.twitter.com/7g2RCjMWwl
Stats Insider Hard Court Rank: 7
In the WTA’s extravagant game of musical chairs, it seem Karolina Pliskova is forever being left wanting. Already a winner of 16 titles on tour, and having already claimed the world’s #1 mantle, it’s the majors which continually present as banana skins for the Czech having reached just a single final from the 33 slams she’s contested.
Key Stat: 2-13- This is Pliskova’s record in her last 15 matches when losing the first set. A key reason for her inability to break through at slam level pertains to variation, and a lack thereof within her game. To win over two weeks, and against the game’s best, a lot more than just a powerfully accurate serve is required.
Who are the greatest tennis players (man and woman) who never won a major singles title? Got to be Marcelo Rios on the men's side and who on the women's side? Perhaps Karolina Pliskova (so far)??— Randy Walker (@TennisPublisher) January 31, 2021
Stats Insider Hard Court Rank: 40
Just 16 years old, but one of world sport’s most intriguing figures, Gauff burst onto the scene at Wimbledon in 2019 with a rollicking run through to the Round of 16. Speaking of the Round of 16, that’s where Gauff reached last year in Melbourne and in her first trip to the Australian Open, taking the scalp of Naomi Osaka along the way.
Key Stat: 11.7%- While Gauff only played 14 matches in 2020, she double-faulted on massive 11.7% of her serves- the second worst number on tour behind only Kristina Mladenovic. At this stage of her career, Gauff’s game isn’t as rounded or nuanced so as to afford to keep handing over free points to her opponents. If she can cut that number down, a deep run in Melbourne is well within her grasp.
• Defeated Naomi Osaka (Aus Open 2020)— Stats Insider (@StatsInsider) January 30, 2021
• Defeated Venus Williams (Wimbledon 2019)
• Won the Linz Open as a 15-year old 'lucky loser'
• Youngest title winner on tour in over 15 years
Coco Gauff is still only 16 yrs old 🤯#AusOpen #AO2021https://t.co/fgptIjZRYE
Stats Insider Hard Court Rank: 9
In 2020, nobody on the WTA tour made more finals (5) than the 21-year old Russian who’ll be looking to make an even bolder impact on tour this year, starting in Melbourne. Rybakina’s massive 2020 kicked off with a tour triumph in Hobart before her best ever slam appearance in Melbourne saw her shoot into the top-20 for the first time. While Rybakina is yet to make a serious mark at Grand Slam level, in only seems a matter of time before she’s making deep runs at the very highest level.
Key Stat: 69.6%- That’s the rate at which Rybakina was winning points when her first serve was in play, and which only speaks to how much of a weapon the 6-footer possesses. It was the 9th best number on tour, while she also fired down 193 aces which was a number bettered only by Serena Williams (200).
Stats Insider Hard Court Rank: 36
Greece and Melbourne have such an intertwined relationship, so it would be only fitting if Maria Sakkari could draw upon some local support to inspire her to a deep run at the Australian Open. While Sakkari has only collected the solitary career title, her 62% win rate in Melbourne represents her best number at slam level. She also arrives in Australia in strong form, recently making a run to the semi-final in Abu Dhabi where she eventually fell to Aryna Sabalenka.
Key Stat: 81%- While Sakkari doesn’t possess a light’s out serve, she's tenacious when the ball is on her racquet, and over the last 12 months has held serve on 81% of her service games, which actually qualifies as the fifth-best mark on tour.
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