A Grand Slam opens up a wealth of opportunities. Lesser-known players can emerge into stars, while the biggest names can tumble unexpectedly.
These scenarios play out frequently. And the truth is, it’s nearly impossible to predict them, at least on a consistent basis.
This is especially true at the Australian Open. With only a little more than a week under our belts, we saw impressive performances by a host of champions, but the sample size is hardly big enough to suggest with full confidence whether this trend will continue.
That, however, does not stop us from making a handful of bold predictions for the first Slam of the year:
Prediction: Another qualifier will make a lasting impression
I would not be surprised if multiple qualifiers made it into the second week of the Australian Open. This is less of a bold prediction than it used to be (Emma Raducanu proved at the US Open a qualifier can go all the way), but it is still infrequent. Only twice this century have two qualifiers made it to the Australian Open Round of 16, in 2008 and 2017.
However, with a solid qualifying draw already in progress, this could be another of those years. For starters, some established veterans won their openers such as former Grand Slam quarterfinalists Lesia Tsurenko, Kateryna Bondarenko and Martina Trevisan.
Young rising talent is also in the mix. Zheng Qinwen, the impressive 19-year-old who made her first WTA semifinal last week in Melbourne, is still alive after outlasting former Top 10 player CoCo Vandeweghe in her opener. In Zheng’s section is 22-year-old Mai Hontama, who had a breakthrough run last year as a qualifier in Chicago.
A known WTA quantity like 20-year-old Caty McNally, who is aiming to get her singles ranking nearer to her Top 20 doubles ranking, is lurking in the qualies. At the other end of the experience spectrum is WTA neophyte Victoria Jiménez Kasintseva of Andorra, but she is no less of a threat. The 16-year-old won the Australian Open junior title two years ago and has skyrocketed from No.999 a year ago to the brink of the Top 200 just this week.
From top to bottom, everyone is professional and laser-focused on the ranking points, prize money and prestige that a deep run at a major can bring. The 16 qualifiers, whoever they turn out to be, will be battle-tested out of a strong field, and I suspect a couple of them will keep their runs rolling quite far. – Jason Juzwiak
Prediction: Amanda Anisimova will be the latest American to go deep – really deep – in the draw
Last year it was the No.22-seeded Jennifer Brady soaring into the Melbourne finals opposite Naomi Osaka. The year before, Sofia Kenin, the No.14 seed, beat Ashleigh Barty in the semifinals and Garbiñe Muguruza in the final.
There’s something about the Americans at the season’s first major. In addition to Brady and Kenin, five other women from the United States – Jessica Pegula, Madison Keys, Danielle Collins, CoCo Vandeweghe and Sloane Stephens have reached at least the quarterfinals over the past decade. And that doesn’t include Venus Williams and her younger sister Serena, who won seven Australian Open titles from 2003-17.
Next up? Amanda Anisimova, who won last week’s Melbourne 250. After a forgettable 2021, she won all five of her matches, besting some legitimate players, including Sorana Cirstea, Irina-Camelia Begu and Daria Kasatkina on the way to the final, where she beat Aliaksandra Sasnovich.
“This week I’ve been enjoying those moments where it’s very close and trying to figure out what to do and how to win,” Anisimova said. “I think that’s what helped me this week because every single match was pretty tough and just not trying to get too ahead of myself and just enjoying every single moment that I get to play.”
Allow us, however, to get way ahead of ourselves and boldly predict that Anisimova will be among the last eight women standing at the Australian Open.
She’s still only 20 years old and ranked No.61 – 17 spots better than last week – but she’s got oodles of game. Three years ago, at the 2019 Australian Open, the 17-year-old got to the Round of 16, defeating Aryna Sabalenka along the way. That same year she reached the semifinals at Roland Garros, where she beat Sabalenka again and Simona Halep in the quarterfinals.
Speaking of Halep, Anisimova worked with her former coach and current tennis analyst, Darren Cahill, in Melbourne and hopes to forge a more permanent relationship. He lives in Adelaide and cited the yearlong travel schedule when parting with Halep last year..
“We’ll come up with a plan,” Anisimova said. “I’d be glad to, but I know he has some TV stuff, so we’ll just talk about it.”
Anisimova will come into the Australian Open unseeded, which can present some difficult early matches. She doesn’t seem too concerned.
“Every match is going to be hard, honestly, and having this string of wins this week, I think that I’ll go in with a lot of confidence,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of good matches against top players last year, so I feel like everyone knows that I can play very good tennis.” – Greg Garber
Prediction: Anna Bondar will make an impression
In 2022, any WTA prediction is a bold one, and even more so based on one week's worth of play. Anisimova and Zheng Qinwen stood out as players who seem to have significantly leveled up. Anisimova seems rejuvenated mentally after a few tough years, and swung freely en route to her second career title in Melbourne.
Zheng has been tour-ready for a while, but was held back less by her game than her limited schedule. She should firmly be within the Top 100 by the end of the first quarter, if not the end of the month.
Lower down and further under the radar, 24-year-old Anna Bondar has been quietly impressive of late. A former Top 20 junior, the Hungarian has taken longer than expected to haul herself out of the ITF circuit, but her game has always been there.
A memorable Billie Jean King Cup performance in 2019, when she stretched Johanna Konta to a final-set tiebreak, was the first notice for many of Bondar's huge first serve and formidable forehand.
A fourth-quarter surge saw Bondar win 22 of her last 26 matches of 2021, including the Buenos Aires WTA 125 title on clay. Last week, she demonstrated that she had brought that same form and confidence into a new year, new surface and against better opposition when she upset Katerina Siniakova and pushed Anastasia Potapova all the way in Melbourne.
Closing out matches is perhaps still a work in progress. Bondar lost 12 of the last 15 points against Potapova after serving for the match - but she has the potential to make an impression against most seeds in her Grand Slam main-draw debut next week. And 2022 should be a year in which she consolidates her position on tour. – Alex Macpherson
Prediction: Don’t expect a new Grand Slam champ
My bold prediction is that the 2022 Australian Open will not be crowning a new major champion. Does this count as a "bold" prediction? Well considering I wrote the exact opposite a few weeks ago, I'll say it's pretty bold. But after watching the action closely throughout the first week of the season, I walked away impressed by the level on display from the tour's major champions.
Two-time major champion and No.1 Ashleigh Barty's form in Adelaide was ominously good. While she didn't say it explicitly, it doesn't take a psychic to see how intent she is to win her home Slam.
Four-time Slam champion and Melbourne's reigning queen Naomi Osaka returned to action with three quality performances. Osaka may have withdrawn from the Melbourne semifinals with an abdominal injury, but there's little reason to be concerned. She was in good spirits in her first tournament since the US Open and will have plenty of time to be 100% fit and firing.
Simona Halep enjoyed a resurgent title run at the Melbourne Summer Set. Iga Swiatek and Victoria Azarenka already look in mid-season form as well.
This week in Sydney we'll get our first look at WTA Finals champion Garbiñe Muguruza, who has proven success at Melbourne Park in recent years.
There will be no shortage of dangerous floaters in the draw, as Greg, Alex, and Jason rightfully point out, which is why we won't have a clear picture of any top seed's chances until the draw is made. But Week 1 was a win for the ones who have done it before. – Courtney Nguyen