Facebook Social Button Twitter Social Button Follow Us on InstagramYouTube Social Button
NewsScoresRankingsLucky Letcord PodcastShopPro GearPickleballGear Sale

By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, January 10, 2023


If not No. 1 Iga Swiatek, then who wins the Australian Open? We put that question to Lindsay Davenport, who cites three ladies who can win a maiden Grand Slam at the AO.

Photo credit: Getty

The Australian Open is the only Grand Slam with retractable roofs covering three courts.

Ideal optics for contenders seeking to pierce the major ceiling.

More: Ash Barty Announces Pregnancy

Six of the last 12 women to raise Grand Slam silverware were maiden major champions, including Barbora Krejcikova (2021 Roland Garros), Emma Raducanu (2021 US Open) and 2022 Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina.

Sofia Kenin, the 2020 AO champion, is the last woman to capture a maiden major in Melbourne.

Reigning US Open and Roland Garros champion Iga Swiatek is a strong favorite to win her third major title in her last four Grand Slam appearances in Australia.

Yet world No. 3 Jessica Pegula punctured any notion of Iga Invincibility thrashing the world No. 1 at United Cup.

Tennis Express

If Swiatek, wearing the bulls-eye on her back as clear favorite, falters then who can break through down under?

We put that question to Tennis Channel analyst and Hall of Famer Lindsay Davenport on a TC conference call with the media to promote the channel's Australian Open coverage. You can watch former world No. 1 Davenport deliver her detailed analysis every night of the Australian Open on TC Live starting at 5 p.m. Eastern time this Sunday, January 15th. The complete Tennis Channel Australian Open Schedule here.

While the major might spin doctor Ons Jabeur has shown reaching successive Slam finals at Wimbledon and the US Open, the fierce form Pegula showed sweeping Swiatek in Sydney or the bouncing inside the baseline aggression of WTA Finals Fort Worth champion Caroline Garcia makes all three of those women major contenders, Davenport didn't go the ranking route with her selections.

Instead, Davenport cites three distinct stylists as her picks to potentially break through to win a first Grand Slam in Melbourne.

Auckland champion Coco Gauff, Adelaide 1 champion Aryna Sabalenka and former Indian Wells champion Paula Badosa are Davenport's choices of three contenders capable of winning their first Grand Slam in Melbourne Park.

The 18-year-old Gauff looked spent staggering through five straight losses to end 2022 raising questions about her extensive workload playing singles and doubles, the elaborate take-back on her western-grip forehand and suspicions over her second serve.

Gauff burst out of the box in Auckland with a statement start to the new season tearing through five straight wins without dropping a set.

The Roland Garros finalist's speed around the court, a bold two-handed backhand that's already one of the best in the game, a heavy serve and her skill playing the transition game and closing at net all make Gauff a good bet to break through and win a maiden major, Davenport says.

"Listen, Coco Gauff is gonna win a major," Davenport said. "I said it at the start of last year: I thought it might have  happened in 2022. It did not. She got close at the French Open.

"She is so good hard that it's hard to deny that that's gonna happen. If what I heard is true about the courts in Melbourne and they are a little slower, that's definitely going to help her. It will give her a little bit more time. I think the fast courts are going to be a little bit more of a challenge for her."

Gauff's ability to play all-court tennis, combined with her athleticism, infuses her game with immense potential, Davenport says. 

"I think really the sky's the limit for her. The arc of her potential, I think she can continue to keep on improving for years," Davenport said of Gauff. "I think her game is good enough now. Getting into the top 10 and kind of establishing herself there, that's a big step forward, especially at her age. That is not easy to do...

"Everything about her game got better. The forehand, she can manage it really well at times. It's obviously not a huge strength right now, but I think her other strengths on the court, her movement. I think her serve has gotten much, much better. Much more consistent. We didn't see the double-faults like we've seen a couple of years before. You know she's been working really hard on that. Her backhand is one of the best in the business."

"You know what she does better than anyone else: finish points at net. If she sees a short ball, she never back pedal. So many players get in the mid-court, they don't trust themselves or have that experience. This is a huge advantage for her, that ability. Seamless. Short ball, hit it, move forward. She has so much confidence in her volley to finish points up there. That is going to win her a lot of points."

The explosive Sabalenka looked commanding and did not surrender a set winning her 11th career title in Adelaide. Imparting more spin on her second serve, Sabalenka sustained her racquet acceleration and didn't suffer the serving yips she endured in Adelaide last year.

While Sabalenka encountered only one Top 20 opponent in Adelaide—Liudmila Samsonova—she defeated three Top 10 players, including No. 1 Swiatek, en route to the WTA Finals Fort Worth Final.

Sabalenka managed her nerve and serve successfully in Adelaide. If she can do the same in Melbourne, Davenport sees both the big-hitting Belarusian and former Indian Wells champion Paula Badosa, both capable of playing first-strike tennis necessary to rule the Happy Slam.

World No. 11 Badosa beat Jelena Ostapenko, Ajla Tomljanovic, gold-medal champion Belinda Bencic, Daria Kastakina and Roland Garros champion Barbora Krejcikova to win the 2022 Sydney title and went on to reach the Australian Open fourth round.

"Women's side, a number of players that could [win a maiden major]," Davenport told Tennis Now. "I still believe in Badosa. I think that last year was a really tough year for her dealing with being a top player for the first time. But I think she's got a great head on her shoulders and a great game and I think something great is going to happen for her as well."

While Sabalenka gained an ignominious spotlight spitting up 39 double faults in a pair of Adelaide first round losses in 2022, she managed her massive power shrewdly, for the most part, and looked confident winning Adelaide last weekend. Sabalenka is a three-time Grand Slam semifinalist, including successive US Open semifinal appearances. Her best Melbourne results are back-to-back-round of 16 appearances.

Davenport suggests all the craziness and upheaval Sabalenka has endured in recent years may just make her strong enough to keep calm and break through for major mastery in Melbourne Park.

"I think Sabalenka might put it together after going through all her trials and tribulations last year," Davenport said. "I think it's probably taught her a lot and probably given her a better understanding of her game."  


Latest News