Women’s first round at Australian Open

Sloane Stephens

Here are four matches in the first round at the Australian Open within the women. The next day, the men.

Sofia Kenin vs. Madison Keys
After winning the 2020 Australian Open, Kenin looked excellent, but gradually she grew nervous and inconsistent. Currently, she is trying to be more thoughtful, and when she is on court, she is mixing it up a little bit. If she is going deep in Melbourne, she has to serve and return like a demon. Keys is finally playing better this week, because last year she was mentally and physically out of it. But when she is on, she can smoke the ball. This match is a tossup, but assuming she won’t get hurt, Keys will wear down in three terrific sets.

Emma Raducanu vs. Sloane Stephens
The young Brit was moving forward on court when she won the 2021 US Open. She was thrilled, and on court, she ran confidently, including her muscular forehand and her backhand. Raducanu likes to rally, as does another US Open winner Stephens. The now veteran American is an incredible grinder, but not recently. In fact, last year she did win some important matches, but the No. 68 lost a lot. If she wants to come back into the top 10, then she is going to totally commit. She is a darn good player, but she has to prove that she really wants to be smarter on court. Raducanu is more focused now, and she will win in straight sets.

Coco Gauff vs. Qiang Wang
The American teenager continues to grow, month after month. Clearly, she is not Serena Williams yet, but her forehand and her backhand are heavy and now she can mix it up more. She also throws in lots of spin and power. However, her serve and her return are so-so. Four years ago, Wang looked good, cracking into the top 20, beating some very good players, but over the past couple years she fell. Yes, she was injured and didn’t know which way to turn. Currently, she is ranked No. 112, so she has a lot of work to do. But, it is too big a task for Wang to take down Gauff in this tournament.

Barbora Krejcikova vs. Andrea Petkovic
In June, the Czech won Roland Garros, which was unexpected. She finally knew what she had to do. After that, her confidence rose. She can rip the ball, returning calmly. Yes, Krejcikova can still be up and down, but she is much more consistent than Petkovic. The German is very smart when she talks. However, she is aging and it is hard for her to crack balls deep enough to challenge a top 10 player. Petkovic will focus but Krejcikova is just too strong.

Top 30s in 2018: Women 20-16

Caroline Garcia
Caroline Garcia

No. 20: Qiang Wang
The Chinese player started the year ranked No.45, but then she dropped into No. 91 in May. She was struggling and she was upset, but she kept plugging and she regressed. In September, ka-boom, she won Guangzhou, and she took off. She went deep in Wuhan, Beijing, Hong Kong and Zhuhai. “Now I’m doing well. This is kind of a surprise for all of us,” Wang said. “I believe at this stage when I’m relaxed, I can do better.” Yes she did, and in 2019,perhaps she can change her approach to the Grand Slams, given that she has yetto reach the second week — ever. If she relaxes, she sure will.

No. 19: Caroline Garcia
The Frenchwoman had a terrific 2017, winning everything during the fall, In 2018, she was under pressure at certain times. She did beat Maria Sharapova and Vika Azarenka, but she lost against Angie Kerber a lot, and the now No. 1 Simona Halep, too. Garcia can run and run and she can mix it up,but she can also hit it pretty short. She was able to rest in November andDecember, so when she arrives in Australia in 2019, she will look fresh. If she begins aggressive, she will return into the top 10. She is still very good. 

No. 18: Garbine Muguruza
The Spaniard has won two Slams, but in 2018, she slipped, and she slipped again. She can dominate with her backhand and forehand, and she swings hard on the return. She can be focuses and analytical.But, last year, her brain melted down and she was gone. Of course, Muguruza gets hurt a lot, but so many people do, so it’s more important that she can be tranquil and totally focused. Yes, the 25-year-old is darn good, and yes, she can win another Grand Slam, but can she do it in 2019? That is a tough call.

No. 17: Madison Keys
The American has struggled at times, on court and off. At the Slams, she has gone deep, reaching the semis in the 2015 Australian Open, upsetting Venus Williams. In the 2017 US Open final, she was playing great, she knocked out Elena Svitolina in three wonderful sets, but int he final, she froze against Sloane Stephens. This year, Keys made it into the semifinals at Roland Garros and, believe it or not, she beat Naomi Osaka before she went down against Stephens again. In Flushing Meadows, she got to the semis, and she was playing just fine, and then, Osaka rose and beat her, and Keys couldn’t figure it out. However, at least she can go deep at the majors, while other peoplec annot. But, at this point, the 23-year-old has only won three events:Stanford, Birmingham and Eastbourne, a while ago. This year, she didn’t reach the finals and she lost early during many months. At some point, Keys needs to stay healthy for a long time, rather getting hurt a lot, year after year. When she is robust, she is excellent, confident and aggressive. Keys can win a GrandSlam in 2019, or at least a huge tournament, like maybe Indian Wells, Canada or Cincy, a Premier Mandatory. She just has to.  

No. 16: Serena Williams
The 37-year-old Serena had a decent year — not by her great standard, but there were times when she played fantastic. Recall that the most important things is when she plays she wants to win badly. Off course,she will say “no big deal,” but she has admitted that there are times when she is so intense, trying hard to relax. When she isn’t hitting the ball well, inside she will become angry, especially at the majors. Serena has won 23Grand Slams, which means for many people say that she is the best player ever,even though she is one behind the Aussie, Margaret Court (24). Can she tie her in 2019? But that is another story. 

This year, in 2018, Serena played only seven events. She returned in March, after she had a baby, and it took her a while to get into playing shape. But, by late June, she was much more comfortable and faster, and she reached the final at Wimbledon, but she went down to Angie Kerber. No big deal. She returned back in the United States, and in July, she lost very early in San Jose and Cincy. But, she was hurt, until she arrived at the US Open in late August. Now,in 12 days, she looked locked in, and she won six matches in a row. But in the final, she had to play even better, becauseNaomi Osaka was on fire — Serena lost to her quickly in Miami five months ago —but the American couldn’t pull it off. Osaka served huge, and she attacked all the time, with her forehand and backhand. Serena was mediocre, at best, and she lost 6-2, 6-4. Yes, Serena screamed in the second set, at the umpire, and others, so, so loud and super angry. She lost it. Now it happens to most people, getting angry and yelling. Did Serena explode, and afterward, did she talk to the 20-year-old Osaka on court,during the ceremony? Yes, she was very nice with Osaka after it ended, who started to cry, because many fans booed at her, and Serena consoled her. But,did Serena apologize for yelling for so many minutes in the second set? In her press conference, she didn’t, she was still upset, mentally, and that was a mistake. After that, she hasn’t played since then.

I have known her since she started back in 1993,traveling with her older sister, Venus, and eventually, Serena started playing in the WTA tour in 1995. At that time, she was so young, and when you are that young, the teenager can be a little off, emotionally. We all have. But 15 years later, she matured and outside of playing tennis at the tournament, she can listen, think and be helpful.

Next year, in 2019, it will be fascinating tosee how well she plays; when she plays, or whether or not she will play at all.In January, we will find out and discover whether that she really wants to playagain. Or not. Let’s us see who it goes.