Five WTA stars who could end Grand Slam wait at Australian Open: From Ons Jabeur to Jessica Pegula and Coco Gauff

Delight for Jessica Pegula Credit: Alamy
Delight for Jessica Pegula Credit: Alamy

Iga Swiatek is the clear favourite to win the 2023 Australian Open, but women’s tennis has a history of throwing up unexpected winners.

Think Elena Rybakina at Wimbledon last year, Emma Raducanu at the 2021 US Open, Barbora Krejcikova at Roland Garros in 2021 and Sofia Kenin at the 2020 Australian Open.

The main draw of the season-opening Grand Slam is expected to feature 12 major champions (Swiatek, Petra Kvitova, Jeļena Ostapenko, Krejcikova, Rybakina, Victoria Azarenka, Sloane Stephens, Naomi Osaka, Bianca Andreescu, Garbine Muguruza, Raducanu and Kenin) although there are still question marks over fitness of one or two of those players.

Those trying to break their Grand Slam duck will in all likelihood have to beat a major champion or two en route to lifting the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup.

Here are five players who could join the Grand Slam winners’ circle at Melbourne Park…

Ons Jabeur

Two Grand Slam runners-up trophies in 2022 suggest Ons Jabeur is ready for the next step and many are backing her to finally lift a major trophy this year.

“I want to use the experiences of 2022 to be ready for 2023, with much higher goals,” the Tunisian said ahead of the new season.

“Definitely I want to be world No 1, I want to win Grand Slam titles, and hopefully the experience of being in the far stages of a lot of tournaments will help me be ready for 2023.”

Jabeur will only make her sixth appearance at Melbourne Park and she missed last year’s edition due to a lower back injury. Her best performance at the season-opening major came in 2020 when she lost in the quarter-final against eventual champion Kenin while in 2021 she exited in the third round.

Although the world No 2 is yet to win a hard-court singles title, she did reach the final of the US Open last year while she also has two other runners-up spots on the surface.

Jabeur was stunned in the semi-final of the Adelaide International 1 by impressive teenager Linda Noskova and she will wrap up her Australian Open preparations at the Adelaide International 2 next week.

Jessica Pegula

We are not quite sure if we should include Jessica Pegula on this list as it emerged over the weekend that she had already won the 2023 Australian Open women’s title.

The Wikipedia entry for the Grand Slam stated that the American defeated Swiatek 7-6 (7-5), 3-6, 7-6 (13-11) in the final.

See for yourself…

Wikipedia 2023 Australian Open Credit: Alamy
Wikipedia 2023 Australian Open Credit: Alamy

Jokes and fake Wikipedia entries aside, Pegula is now a consistent Grand Slam performer as she reached the quarter-final of three of majors last year, including the Australian Open where she lost against Ashleigh Barty.

Both her WTA Tour singles titles to date have come on hard courts as she won the won the 2019 Washington Open and the 2022 Guadalajara Open.

Starting the year as the world No 3, Pegula is also coming off an impressive 6-2, 6-2 demolition of Swiatek at the United Cup (we can confirm this is real and not a Wikipedia fake entry).

Caroline Garcia

We will never get tired of stating that Andy Murray once predicted that Caroline Garcia “is going to be number one in the world one day”.

She hasn’t quite managed to get to top spot in the WTA Rankings, but she is close as she surged up to No 4 last year on the back of a rollercoaster campaign.

She found herself outside the top 70 early in the season, but turned things around during the second half of the campaign as she won three titles, including the WTA 1000 Cincinnati Open, before reaching the semi-final of the US Open.

After moving back into the top 10, she qualified for the WTA Finals and went on to win the biggest title of her career.

One black mark against Garcia is the fact that she has never reached the business end of the Australian Open with her best run a fourth-round appearance in 2018. Last year she made a first-round exit.

Coco Gauff

The American reached her maiden Grand Slam final at Roland Garros last year and followed it up with a run to quarter-final of the US Open, although she did finish the year on a low after failing to win any matches at the WTA Finals.

Gauff, though, has already upped her game again as she is into the Auckland final as she looks to win her first title since lifting the Emilia-Romagna Open trophy in May 2021.

Her run in New Zealand will be a welcome boost ahead of the Australian Open as last year she was beaten in the first round of the season-opening Grand Slam.

The 18-year-old’s best appearance at Melbourne Park was on her debut in 2020 when she beat Venus Williams and defending champion Naomi Osaka en route to the fourth round.

Aryna Sabalenka

Maria Sakkari, Belinda Bencic and Danielle Collins were all considered for the fifth spot, but in the end Aryna Sabalenka’s hard-court finals record and recent Grand Slam performances got her the nod.

Nine of Sabalenka’s 10 WTA singles titles were won on hard courts, although the last one came at the Linz Open in 2020. However, she finished runner-up on the hard courts of Fort Worth at the season-ending WTA Finals in October and is also into the final of the Adelaide International 1.

The Belarusian also has two hard-court Grand Slam doubles titles to her name as she won the 2019 US Open and 2021 Australian Open, both with Elise Mertens.

A couple of negatives for the 24-year-old is her mental toughness in big games as well as her serving woes. She has been known to send down dozens of double faults, but so far so good in 2023.

READ MORE: Five ATP stars who could end Grand Slam wait at Australian Open: From Felix Auger-Aliassime to Nick Kyrgios

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