While the men’s side of the Australian Open is shaping about as expected, most of the intrigue and mystery heading into the second week is with the women, and it could be good news for Australian hopes.
- The fourth, sixth, eighth and ninth seeds have been knocked out of the women’s draw
- There are five other major winners left, with 31 slams between them, but Ash Barty won’t face any of them before the final
- Fifth seed Elina Svitolina is the only other top-15 player left in Barty’s half of the draw
With Dominic Thiem taking the best shots from the game’s biggest disruptor, Nick Kyrgios, the men’s champion and finalist are looking more and more likely to come out of the now-familiar group of Thiem, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Daniil Medvedev and Alex Zverev.
That group has accounted for six of the past seven major finals, with only Roger Federer’s loss to Djokovic at Wimbledon 2019 breaking up the run, and would have made up most people’s picks pre-tournament.
Throw in Stefanos Tsitsipas and Andrey Rublev, and the top seven men are all still rolling through the draw with apparent ease.
Meanwhile, the women’s side of the draw has been thrown wide open by a series of upsets, clearing out some major obstacles for Aussie world number one Ash Barty to take a run at her second major title and her first on home soil.
Sixth seed Karolina Plíšková was the biggest potential stumbling block in Barty’s quarter of the draw, but the former US Open finalist was knocked out in the third round by fellow Czech and 25th seed Karolína Muchová.
The other big name in their half was last year’s champion, Sofia Kenin, who admitted to struggling with the pressure of defending her title and fell to Estonian veteran Kaia Kanepi in the second round.
Other floating threats in her half included two-time Australian Open winner and 2020 US runner-up Victoria Azarenka, seeded 12th, and 13th-seeded former semi-finalist Johanna Konta, neither of whom could get out of round one.
That’s not to say that her next match, against 2020 US Open quarter-finalist Shelby Rogers, will be a walkover, nor are potential quarter-final opponents Muchová and 18th seed Elise Mertens scrubs by any stretch of the imagination. But it’s undeniable that they don’t have the same aura as some of the other projected match-ups.
In the other half of the draw, we’ve seen eighth seed Bianca Andreescu ousted early in her first major since winning the 2019 US Open, and ninth seed and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitová lost in the second round, but it remains littered with stars.
Seeded 10th, Serena Williams is basically the shark from Jaws at this point, violently dismembering people without having to poke her head above water.
French Open champion Iga Świątek is taking on world number two and two-time major winner Simona Halep in fourth round, while the other round-of-16 clash in that quarter pits last year’s runner-up Garbiñe Muguruza against former world number one Naomi Osaka, who has won three of the past eight slams and is the most prolific women’s player for the past five years (Angelique Kerber also won three majors from 2016 to 2018).
The fourth round in that half of the draw is a meat grinder, with five major winners, including the irrepressible Williams.
But even without her 23 titles, Osaka, Halep, Muguruza, Świątek and Markéta Vondroušová have eight slams and six runner-up finishes between them.
Barty’s side has one major winner — her. No-one else has even made a final.
The elephant in the room is the only top-15 player left in Barty’s half, the in-form Elina Svitolina lurking as a potential semi-final opponent.
The fifth-seeded Ukrainian won two titles last year, is yet to drop a set in this tournament and holds a 5-1 win-loss record against Barty. But the Aussie’s one and only win came in their last meeting, in the lucrative WTA Finals at the end of Barty’s breakout 2019 season.
Also in Barty’s favour, perhaps more than ever, is home-court advantage.
Despite there being no crowds to spur her to victory — something she said she didn’t actually mind — Barty did not have to endure the quarantine that so many of her opponents did.
And while she has not been playing for the past year, she’s clearly been keeping her fitness up, as evidenced by her run through the Yarra Valley Classic, where she beat Muguruza in the final.
Barty has lived up to the number next to her name with three straight-sets wins in the first week in Melbourne, including a historic double bagel in the first round.
She’s playing like the world number one and riding the wave that comes along with it.
If she can reach the final, she will be the first Australian woman to do so in 40 years and all she’ll have to do is weather the pressure of possibly being the first Australian to win their home slam since 1978.