Australian Open

Australian Open Women's Draw: Prime Ryb a tasty selection

Australian Open
Who wins the 2024 Woman's Australian Open?

Four women have risen to the top of their sport and will fight it out for Australian Open glory. Previewing the women's draw Gavin Mair assesses why he's siding with big hitting Kazakhstani player Elena Rybakina to outgun her rivals in Melbourne...

  • Big hitting Rybakina primed for sucess in Melbourne

  • Potential for chaos in bottom half of the draw

  • Greek talent capable of big fortnight

This women's tournament is open by name, open by nature. Unlike the men's event, ruled by one man and a couple of his honorary friends, there have been 12 winners of the women's tournament since Djokovic, Federer and Nadal started their domination of the Australian Open in 2006. That is not to say it is unclear who will be the likely contenders for the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup.

Over the past year a group of four Grand Slam champions has emerged at the top of the women's game comprised of Iga Swiatek, Coco Gauff, Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina, all of whom have won a major over the last 18 months.

Whilst you could make a compelling case for any of them, I was highly impressed by the performance of Rybakina as she stormed to success in Brisbane last week. The 2023 finalist is the player to beat.

New Year, New Elena

Rybakina looks an improved player in 2024. Her game has always been about power and control, and in the right conditions she is unplayable. This is the formula that guided her to Wimbledon success in 2022.

However, a lack of nimble foot speed and agility that she is able to mask on slick grass courts has held her back from sustained success across the tennis calendar. In Brisbane the result of hard off-season training was realised, appearing lighter on her feet, and with it more time to line up her shots.

This was most notable in a dominant and controlled victory over rival Sabalenka in what until then had been a Russian roulette match-up determined by which of the two would take and execute bigger risks.

Adding more fluid movement to her game represents a marginal gain that elevates Rybakina from a very dangerous player sometimes, to a very dangerous player all the time and it may be the key to getting her over the line in Melbourne.

Back Elena Rybakina to win Australian Open @ 9/25.50

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Hurdles on the contenders tracks

World number one Iga Swiatek is the other prominent seed in Rybakina's half, and she has not been gifted with a straightforward draw. 2020 champion Sofia Kenin is her first round opponent followed by either 2022 finalist Danielle Collins or 2016 champion Angelique Kerber.

Should she survive it doesn't get any easier as wonderkid Linda Noskova is likely waiting in round three. Negotiate all that and there is Elina Svitolina, Jelena Ostapenko and reigning Wimbledon champion to hurdle all to set a semi-final meeting with Rybakina.

Swiatek would of course be favourite in each individual match but it would be both surprising and impressive if she easily negotiated that gauntlet, so the 4/91.44 price on her to win quarter one holds absolutely no appeal.

It will interesting to see if US Open champion Coco Gauff can transfer her New York form to Melbourne. After appointing veteran coach Brad Gilbert to her team, the youngster went on an incredible run during the 2023 American hard court swing culminating in a maiden Grand Slam title.

Whilst her level dropped towards the end of last season she has started this year positively scoring the title in Auckland, albeit against a weaker field than was present in Brisbane.

According to former player Lleyton Hewitt, conditions in Melbourne are on the quicker end of the scale and this gives me some doubt about Gauff's suitability to pick up this Slam. The 19 year old's forehand cracks under pressure and on speedy terrain it could drag her into trouble this fortnight.

Greek support could take Sakkari deep

I feel there is an opportunity to side with an in-form and confident player that has the ability to have a big tournament, if not go all the way and win it. Maria Sakkari has been a top 10 fixture for several seasons, with an attacking game and physicality that few opponents can rival.

The big problem for Maria has been handling her nerves on the big stage. Too often she is a deer in the headlights, and it is why she only has two career titles to her name.

The good news is one she captured one of these trophies at a prestigious event in Guadalajara late last season, and she has carried the good vibes into 2024 producing a strong showing in the United Cup team event.

There is a vibrant Greek tennis-going community in Australia and players from Greece and nearby Cyprus tend to enjoy loud and positive support from the stands - it helped carry Tsitsipas to the 2023 final, and Baghdatis in 2006.

Back Maria Sakkari to reach semi-final quarter three @ 17/29.50

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Back to back?

The final quarter houses defending champion Aryna Sabalenka. Trends indicate this is a very difficult title to defend, with compatriot Victoria Azarenka the last to achieve this back in 2012 and 2013.

It's quite possible the pressure of defending the title weighs on the Belarusian behemoth but she has landed a favourable draw, with no obvious challengers until around the quarter-final stage.

The markets suggest she will then face either Ons Jabeur or 16 year old Mirra Andreeva, both of whom possess a bag of tricks that may be able to frustrate Sabalenka into defeat at that stage. However, it is quite possible neither player emerges to that stage given their own inconsistencies.

The obvious darkhorses that could outrace Sabalenka have landed elsewhere in the draw. Quarter four looks ripe for a potential breakout run from a player, but two weeks into the season it is like picking a needle from a haystack.

With uncertainty over her nearest competitors it is Rybakina who I believe has the draw, the form and the pedigree to go and win this tournament.

Now read our Australian Open men's tournament preview

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