T he top seed, the local hero and the Wimbledon champion, she came back with a bang by winning the singles and doubles titles in her first event of the season in Adelaide. She had not played since a third-round loss at the US Open in September due to fatigue (she had been on the road for six months due to the strict quarantine rules preventing her from returning to Australia) but now refreshed and newly engaged to her long-term boyfriend Garry Kissick, she has had the perfect preparation for the first grand slam of the year. Her best result in Melbourne was a semi-final finish in 2020.
The French Open champion is a conundrum. During her run in Paris last summer, she was, at times, utterly fearless. And then again, she was occasionally crippled with nerves. But she found a way to win. She was the world No.33 then; she is the No.4 now – and she can fight. She saved seven match points against Annet Kontaveit on Friday to reach the Sydney final but, once there, she could not quite do it again and lost in three sets to Paula Badosa yesterday. No matter; Krejcikova has laid the groundwork for her Melbourne campaign.
The newly crown queen of Adelaide, beating Alison Riske to win the Adelaide 2 title yesterday, Keys is in Melbourne with a spring in her step. It was her first trophy since 2019 and while her ranking is down at a relatively anonymous No.87 in the world, the American knows her way around a grand slam arena. She was a semi-finalist in Australia in 2015 and at the French and US Opens in 2018 and a finalist at the US Open in 2017. She may not lift the trophy in Melbourne this year but confidence and experience could give her a head start on her rivals so early in the season.
It is hard to remember that Gauff is still only 17. She announced her arrival on the world stage at Wimbledon in 2019 by qualifying and reaching the third round. Since then, she has brushed off the pressure and expectation and simply got on with the business of learning her trade and establishing herself as a threat to anyone. Ranked No.19 in the world, she took a set from Ash Barty at the Adelaide International 1 before losing in the second round. She vowed to learn from that defeat and, sure enough, she reached the semi-finals of the Adelaide International 2 tournament last week.
The defending champion is a something of a loose cannon in Melbourne this year. After she left Australia, her tennis started to unravel as she struggled with mental health issues. By the time she was bundled out of the US Open in the third round, she had had enough and took an extended break – no one knew when or, indeed, if she would be back. But boredom set in quite quickly: she missed tennis. Back at work now, she seemed relaxed and content until an abdominal strain forced her to withdraw from the semi-final of the Melbourne Summer Set event earlier this month. It was, she said, merely the strain of playing back-to-back matches for the first time in months. Then again, she withdrew from the warm-up event before the 2020 US Open – and she went on to win that.