Nine players will break new ground at the 2022 Australian Open by play the main draw of a Grand Slam for the first time. Get to know them here.
Robin Anderson (USA)
The winner of the USTA's Australian Open Wildcard Challenge, Robin Anderson has been rewarded for a career largely spent under the radar so far - to the extent that her first Grand Slam main draw will also mark her WTA-level main-draw debut. However, the 28-year-old American has excelled in WTA 125 events, defeating Caty McNally en route to her biggest career final to date in Midland last October - the key tournament in landing her wildcard.
An alumna of UCLA, where she studied anthropology, Anderson was a college tennis standout who made her Grand Slam qualifying debut as a wildcard at the 2011 US Open. Standing at 5-foot-3, the New Jersey native looked to diminutive legend Justine Henin for inspiration and has made up for her lack of height with superb reflexes and net play.
"She does a lot of things better than anyone else in college right now," UCLA coach Stella Sampras Webster said in 2015. "She has one of the best serves, and she uses her quickness on the court to defend but also to dictate."
While in college, Anderson listed her greatest thrill as reaching the 2010 US Open girls' quarterfinals, defeating Laura Robson en route. She might get to trump that in Melbourne with a high-profile first-round showdown against Samantha Stosur in the last singles tournament of the Australian's career.
Emina Bektas (USA)
A second former college player making her debut on the main stage is University of Michigan alumna Emina Bektas, who knocked out two former Top 100 players in Katie Boulter and Christina McHale to make it through her first ever Grand Slam qualifying event.
Bektas, 28, was born in Germany to Bosnian refugee parents who had fled the war in their native country during the 1990s, and who then emigrated to Indianapolis when she was a child. A year after turning pro, she showed promise by defeating Sofia Kenin en route to the 2017 Albuquerque ITF W80 title, but it's in the past six months that Bektas - who is also married to fellow WTA pro Tara Moore - has put together her best string of results.
Qualifying for her first two main draws last summer in San Jose and Cleveland was a boost, particularly given the tight score lines she mustered against Caroline Garcia and Magda Linette in the respective main draws. Bektas followed that by winning the Las Vegas ITF W60 event in October, and carried over her form into 2022 by reaching the Traralgon ITF W60 semifinals in the first week of the season. Last June, she was ranked No.382; she is now at a career high of No.216.
In the main draw, Bektas will seek her first WTA-level win, and first victory over a Top 100 player at the eighth attempt, against Berlin champion Liudmila Samsonova.
Anna Bondar (HUN)
Last year, Anna Bondar had cause to note the date of Nov. 7. In 2016, her transition from Top 20 junior to the pro ranks was interrupted by knee surgery. "That left me with a year of recovery and a lot of doubts," the Hungarian wrote on Instagram. Exactly five years later to the day, Nov. 7, 2021 saw her lift her first WTA 125 title in Buenos Aires, paving the way to a Top 100 debut a week later.
Bondar's talent has been evident from her junior days, when she scored wins over Daria Kasatkina and Jil Teichmann and won the 2015 European Junior Championships title in Klosters. In 2019, she turned heads with a brilliant performance against Johanna Konta in Billie Jean King Cup zonal action on the Briton's home turf, stretching Konta to the limit in a 6-2, 6-7(1), 7-6(4) loss.
Highlights: Bondar d. Siniakova, Melbourne 1 R1 | Potapova d. Bondar, Melbourne 1 R2
The quality of Bondar's serve and forehand stood out in that match, and in 2021 she began to convert her easy power into consistent results. She finished with a 62-27 win-loss record, including a maiden WTA quarterfinal in Gdynia and 27 victories in her last 33 matches, and was rewarded the fourth-largest jump into the year-end Top 100 from No.273 to No.90.
With direct entry into the Australian Open assured, Bondar maintained that form to score the first Top 50 win of her career last week over Katerina Siniakova at the Melbourne Summer Set 1. The 24-year-old followed it by pushing another Top 100 player all the way, falling 6-4, 6-7(4), 7-5 to Anastasia Potapova after serving for the match. In her first Grand Slam main draw, Bondar has the opportunity for another career-best win as she takes on No.10 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova off the bat.
Lucia Bronzetti (ITA)
One of the most underrated feats of the 2021 season was Lucia Bronzetti's trio of quarterfinal showings in each of her first three WTA main draws - on clay in Lausanne and Palermo, and then on hard courts in Portoroz. The Italian had started the year ranked No.339 and playing ITF W15 events in Sharm el Sheikh, and ended it ranked No.145 with three Top 100 victories under her belt.
Moreover, Bronzetti impressed with both the quality of her game and her fighting spirit. Speedy around the court but also displaying an excellent ability to redirect pace, Bronzetti played a role in some of the summer's best matches - a three-set loss to eventual Tamara Zidansek in Lausanne, and a comeback win over Bernarda Pera in Portoroz.
Highlights: Bronzetti d. Blinkova, Lausanne R2 | Zidansek d. Bronzetti, Lausanne QF | Bronzetti d. Pera, Portoroz R2
"Without too much pressure the results have arrived, I must say rather suddenly, and I am very happy," Bronzetti told Italy 24 News in August.
Coached by Francesco Piccari and with former World No.35 Karin Knapp as a sometime member of her team, the Rimini native has continued to shine in 2022. After qualifying for the Adelaide 500, she pushed former Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin to a tight 7-5, 7-5 loss, and followed that by dropping just one set en route to qualifying in Melbourne. Bronzetti opens against Varvara Gracheva in the main draw, with a potential second-round match against No.1 seed Ashleigh Barty on the line.
Jaqueline Cristian (ROU)
Last November, Jaqueline Cristian hit two key milestones within the space of five days. In the same week that the Romanian made her Top 100 debut, she also reached her first WTA final in Linz - becoming only the fifth lucky loser this century to contest a WTA title match.
Cristian fell to Alison Riske in a three-set thriller, but the Austrian run was the culmination of a season in which her main tour results have trended gradually upwards. She reached her first WTA quarterfinal in St. Petersburg in March, upsetting Jelena Ostapenko en route, and also reached that stage in Palermo and at the Transylvania Open. September saw a maiden semifinal in Nur-Sultan, and in Linz she scored a career-best win by ranking over Veronika Kudermetova.
After her Linz run, the Bucharest-born 23-year-old credited her new coach, Thomas Drouet, with whom she had begun working midseason. "You made me a better player but also a better person, and all the hard work and discipline we put in every day are starting to pay off and that's even more motivating me to give my best every day and see where we can get," Cristian wrote of Drouet, the former coach of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Wang Qiang.
Cristian, named after Jackie Kennedy after her gynaecologist uncle watched a documentary about the former first lady of the United States the day before she was born, has been tipped for great things ever since she won Les Petits As, the premier U14 tournament in the world, in 2012. The following year, compatriot Simona Halep surged into the Top 20, and went on to become arguably the most successful female Romanian player in history; as Cristian forged her own nascent career, Halep served as a constant inspiration.
Highlights: Cristian d. Tomljanovic, Cluj-Napoca R2 | Cristian d. Kudermetova, Linz QF | Riske d. Cristian, Linz F | Krejcikova d. Cristian, Sydney R2
Though Cristian ended 2021 at a career-high of No.71, a major debut was the missing piece of the puzzle after she fell in the final qualifying round at both Roland Garros (to Anhelina Kalinina) and the US Open (to Rebeka Masarova). Direct entry at the Australian Open has enabled her to bypass the preliminary rounds, and she opens against Greet Minnen.
A potential second-round clash with No.11 seed Sofia Kenin would be one to circle. Back in 2020, in her first ever meeting with a Top 10 player, Cristian held match point over Kenin in the second round of Lyon before falling 6-7(5), 7-5, 6-4.
Arianne Hartono (NED)
During Arianne Hartono's time at the University of Mississippi, the Dutchwoman was arguably the ultimate student-athlete. On court, she capped a stellar college tennis career by becoming the 2018 NCAA Division I singles champion. In the same year, she graduated summa cum laude with a major in psychology and minor in business administration.
"Arianne was one of those students that only come along every five to 10 years in a professor's career," said Scott A. Gustafson, who taught two of her advanced psychology classes in 2018.
Tennis runs in the family for Hartono, whose parents emigrated from Indonesia to the Netherlands before she was born. Her uncle and aunt, Deddy and Lukky Tedjamukti, both played the sport professionally; her cousin and sometime doubles partner Aldila Sutjiadi is the current World No.374, and another cousin, Nadia Ravita, played college tennis for the University of Kentucky.
Highlights: Hartono d. Friedsam, Luxembourg R1 | Ostapenko d. Hartono, Luxembourg R2
Hartono, 25, had chosen the college route in order to have a backup plan, but after a breakthrough 2021 that might not be needed just yet. A 48-27 record, culminating in a first WTA 125 quarterfinal in Seoul, boosted her from No.400 at the end of 2020 to a career high of No.187 in December. Along the way, she qualified for her WTA main draw debut in Luxembourg; her aggressive ground game shone on the fast indoor courts as she upset Anna-Lena Friedsam in the first round and took Jelena Ostapenko to three sets in the second.
In her Grand Slam qualifying debut, Hartono survived a trio of three-setters against Talia Gibson, Ysaline Bonaventure and Jule Niemeier to reach the main draw, where she will open against Melbourne Summer Set 2 champion Amanda Anisimova.
Jang Su Jeong (KOR)
Perseverance has paid off for Jang Su Jeong, 26, this week after she successfully navigated Grand Slam qualifying for the first time in 12 attempts. She becomes the eighth South Korean woman to contest a Grand Slam main draw in the Open Era, and fourth this century following Cho Yoon-Jeong, Jeon Mi-Ra and Han Na-Lae.
As an 18-year-old wildcard ranked No.540, Jang reached the Seoul 2013 quarterfinals on her WTA main-draw debut via an upset of Klara Koukalova, and she played her first major qualifying event at the following year's US Open. Before this week, she had reached the final qualifying round twice, at Roland Garros 2017 (losing to Françoise Abanda) and the US Open 2017 (losing to Anna Zaja) - the same year she hit her career high of No.120 and reached her biggest final to date at the Honolulu WTA 125.
But after the US Open 2018, Jang's ranking sunk beneath the qualifying cut-off for the next three years - a situation not helped by the Covid-19 pandemic, during which she was out of action for 12 months. She returned to action at ITF W15 level last March, ranked No.330, and despite spending most of 2021 out of her comfort zone on European clay, compiled a 41-25 record - enough to bounce her back up to her current No.212.
In Melbourne, Jang did not drop a set throughout qualifying. Coincidentally, her final match saw her take revenge on Rebeka Masarova, who had inflicted a first-round defeat on her in an Antalya ITF W15 event last March; eight months after clashing at the lowest level of professional tennis, the pair's rematch had a Grand Slam main draw place on the line. Jang's reward is a first-round tilt against Danka Kovinic, with either US Open champion Emma Raducanu or Sloane Stephens awaiting the winner.
Panna Udvardy (HUN)
Few players ground as hard in 2021 as Panna Udvardy. The 23-year-old Hungarian played 99 matches over the course of the season across four continents, winning 73 of them in total. Ranked No.354 in December 2020, she hit a career high of No.94 exactly 12 months later.
Udvardy's breakthrough season included five ITF titles, a maiden quarterfinal as a wildcard on home soil in Budapest, and a Grand Slam qualifying debut at Wimbledon, where she took Camila Osorio to three sets in the second round. It culminated in two months on the South American clay at the end of the year, during which Udvardy reached her first WTA 125 final in Montevideo and compiled a 23-3 record.
But there's quality as well as quantity in Udvardy's career to date. She was a Top 20 junior, scoring wins over Elena Rybakina, Kaja Juvan and Caty McNally at that level. In Budapest, she posted an impressive upset of Aliaksandra Sasnovich for her first Top 100 win. And she's a hard worker off court as well, currently taking advantage of the WTA's partnership with Indiana University East to work toward a psychology degree.
Udvardy's work ethic is borne out of necessity. She was on court at an ITF W25 event in Olimpia, Brazil in March 2020 at the moment the Covid-19 shutdown of professional tennis was announced; a month later, she told The Guardian, "I'm not sure what I'm going to do if it's much longer - there's no way I can do anything else."
Having earned a Grand Slam debut the hard way, Udvardy's reward is the opportunity to test herself against a Top 50 opponent for the first time as she opens against No.24 seed Victoria Azarenka.
Zheng Qinwen (CHN)
When the tennis tours resumed 17 months ago following the Covid-19 shutdown, China's Zheng Qinwen was ranked No.630. A former junior No.6 who had reached the Roland Garros and US Open girls' semifinals in 2019, she had yet to reach a professional final in 24 events.
Since then, she has been near unstoppable. Zheng returned to action sooner than most of her compatriots, committing to months on the road grinding her way through European ITF events. Her hustle has paid off with a meteoric rise from ITF W15s all the way into her first WTA semifinal last week at Melbourne Summer Set 1.
Read more: Five things to know about Zheng Qinwen
In total, Zheng's record since August 2020 is a phenomenal 75-17, including seven ITF World Tour titles. On her WTA main-draw debut in Palermo last year, she immediately notched her first Top 100 win over No.2 seed Liudmila Samsonova; in Melbourne, she added quality defeats of Vera Zvonareva and Ana Konjuh. Along the way, she has been honing her breathtaking raw power to add control and point construction.
Highlights: Zheng d. Samsonova, Palermo R1 | Zheng d. Hontama, Melbourne 1 R1 | Zheng d. Konjuh, Melbourne 1 SF
The No.111-ranked 19-year-old's match sharpness has also been evident this month in two tiebreaks won from 5-1 down - the first to seal the win over Konjuh and, two matches later, the second to escape from the brink of defeat against CoCo Vandeweghe 1-6, 7-6(5), 6-1 in her first ever Grand Slam qualifying competition.
After escaping the former World No.9, Zheng went on to qualify. She posts a significant threat in the main draw. Zheng takes on Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the first round.
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