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Andy Schooler looks ahead to the 2022 Australian Open, which starts on Monday, delivering his verdict on the leading contenders and providing some key facts and figures.

Ash Barty

World ranking: 1

Tournament history: QF-SF-QF-3R-3R-DNP-DNP-1R-1R-1R

Best Grand Slam performance: Winner, 2021 Wimbledon & 2019 French Open

2022 record: 4-0 (Champion, Adelaide)

Projected draw: Qualifier, Gracheva/Qualifier, Giorgi, Osaka, Sakkari, Krejcikova, Sabalenka

Barty looked in great nick when winning in Adelaide in the opening week of the season, certainly good enough to justify her position as favourite. However, Thursday’s draw threw a notable hurdle in her path – the player all the leading seeds wanted to avoid, defending champion Naomi Osaka, landed in her section and the top two in the outright market are now due to face off in the last 16. For the record, they have split four previous meetings, although the last of those was in 2019. Only once has the Wimbledon champion gone beyond the quarter-finals of her home Slam too…

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Naomi Osaka

World ranking: 14


Tournament history: W-3R-W-4R-2R-3R

Best Grand Slam performance: Winner, 4 titles (2 at Australian Open)

2022 record: 3-0 (SF, Melbourne)

Projected draw: Osorio, Brengle/Yastremska, Bencic, Barty, Sakkari, Krejcikova, Sabalenka

The reigning champion, who also won in 2019, is the best hardcourt player in the world when at her best. The question is, will Osaka be 100 per cent in Melbourne this year? She didn’t play too often in 2021, withdrawing from Wimbledon citing mental-health reasons, while her last match of the year was at the US Open in early September. 2022 started well with three wins in Melbourne but the former world number one then withdrew with an abdominal injury, saying: “My body got a shock from playing back-to-back intense matches after the break I took.” Osaka will get a day off between matches in Melbourne but the injury still has to be a worry for potential backers, as is that tough draw which puts her on an early collision course with top seed Barty.

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Iga Swiatek

World ranking: 8


Tournament history: 4R-4R-2R

Best Grand Slam performance: Winner, 2020 French Open

2022 record: 3-1 (SF, Adelaide)

Projected draw: Qualifier, Saville/Peterson, Kasatkina, Pavlyuchenkova, Sabalenka, Muguruza, Barty

Swiatek stunned the tennis world with her victory at the 2020 French Open but she is still to truly prove herself on the hardcourts. She’s yet to go beyond the fourth round of a Grand Slam on this surface. The Pole was reduced to tears at the WTA Finals in November when struggling against the game’s elite. Admittedly, her recent run-in Adelaide suggested better times but after some decent-enough wins she was well beaten when she faced a top-class player in the semis, namely Barty. Does have a good draw, having landed in the same quarter as the out-of-sorts Aryna Sabalenka, but her odds were duly cut and I see little value in Swiatek at a single-figure price.

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Garbine Muguruza

World ranking: 3

Tournament history: 4R-RU-4R-2R-QF-3R-4R-4R-2R

Best Grand Slam performance: Winner, 2017 Wimbledon & 2016 French Open

2022 record: 0-0 (withdrew from Adelaide)

Projected draw: Burel, Cornet/Qualifier, Zidansek, Halep, Kontaveit, Sabalenka, Barty

The former French Open and Wimbledon champion is a player who can blow very hot and cold. She was certainly on a hot streak at the end of 2021 when winning the ATP Finals – and she started the year well too, impressing in Melbourne where she really should have beaten Osaka, who went on to win the title. Muguruza held two match points but couldn’t close and her opponent took full advantage. Certainly has the ability to hit winners but perhaps her defence isn’t as good as some of her peers. The 2020 runner-up will go well if she finds her best form.

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Simona Halep

World ranking: 15

Tournament history: QF-SF-4R-RU-1R-1R-QF-QF-1R-1R-3R

Best Grand Slam performance: Winner, 2019 Wimbledon & 2018 French Open

2022 record: 5-0 (Champion, Melbourne)

Projected draw: Frech, Haddad Maia/Qualifier, Raducanu, Muguruza, Kontaveit, Sabalenka, Barty

A decent case can be made for Halep at the price. She’s enjoyed her time here, finishing runner-up four years ago to Caroline Wozniacki and twice making the latter stages since. Here 2021 campaign was heavily hit by a calf injury but the former world number one says she’s fighting fit again and she started the season in great fashion, winning a WTA title at Melbourne Park, the venue for the Australian Open. The draw could be better – Halep may have to beat Muguruza and Anett Kontaveit to make the semis – but she has avoided the half of Barty and Osaka so there’s certainly each-way potential.

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Best of the Rest

Readers of my piece on five WTA stars to watch this season will know I’m keen on Paula Badosa continuing to improve in 2022. A winner on the hardcourts of Indian Wells towards the end of last season, Badosa also looks to have a pretty decent draw with Barbora Krejcikova the only higher seed in her quarter. Her aggressive game could be rewarded on these courts and may be worth a second glance at 16/1.

The big-serving of Elena Rybakina (20/1) also looks worth a mention. The Kazakh slams down the aces and US Open champion Emma Raducanu was certainly flummoxed by her delivery in Sydney this week. Perhaps a thigh injury which followed that win will put punters off but it’s notable that her withdrawal came after a run to the final in Adelaide the week before so there’s every chance it was simply a case of Rybakina saving herself what she hopes will be a full fortnight of tennis ahead.

Finally for those after a real long shot, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova has made three Australian Open quarter-finals in the last five years and buoyed by last season’s run to the French Open final, she may be able to improve on that record in 2022. She looks well-drawn in the Sabalenka/Swiatek quarter. With both of those seeds looking vulnerable, the hard-hitting Russian looks well placed to capitalise on any slip-ups. The problem, however, is the fact that she had to skip her intended warm-up event due to COVID – she was immediately forced into isolation. She’ll therefore need to play herself into form over the first couple of rounds but if she does, Pavlyuchenkova has the ability to go deep.

Best Bets

Leading contender – Simona Halep – 14/1

Outside chance – Elena Rybakina – 20/1

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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