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An open Open: champions abound in women's draw

  • Dan Imhoff

As the leader of the pack and with a pair of major trophies at home to polish, Ash Barty accepts her name in the draw comes with a target attached.

But with Grand Slam champions from 11 nationalities also in the hunt to add to their haul, the Australian finds strength in numbers.

The jostling for major spoils has rarely been as stacked or as open as in the women's ranks in recent years.

Twelve of the current top 30 boast at least one Grand Slam singles title, while a pair of unseeded floaters – each a US Open champion – lurk in this year's Australian Open draw.

No fewer than 11 first-time Grand Slam title winners have been crowned from the past 18 majors. 

No.1 Ash Barty

Champion: Roland Garros 2019, Wimbledon 2021
Best AO result: SF 2020

The world's top-ranked woman has gone from strength to strength since her watershed moment on the clay at Roland Garros in 2019. 

While playing a limited schedule the following season, the 25-year-old was on the road for more than six months last year without returning home, a stretch in which she scooped three more tour titles and her second major over Karolina Pliskova at Wimbledon, the latter after the agony of her hip injury during Roland Garros.

Barty finished the season with a 14-1 mark against top-20 opponents and arrived at Melbourne Park on the heels of her singles and doubles triumphs in Adelaide.

Barty won her second major at Wimbledon last year
No.3 Garbine Muguruza

Champion: Roland Garros 2016, Wimbledon 2017
Best AO result: RU 2020

Twice in the fourth round at last year's Australian Open, Muguruza held match points against eventual champion Naomi Osaka. It marked another tough three-set defeat at Melbourne Park for the former No.1, following her runner-up showing against Sofia Kenin the year prior.

The Spaniard – a champion at Roland Garros and the All England Club – ended a three-match losing streak in finals in Dubai soon after and re-entered the top 10 following Wimbledon.

The 28-year-old closed out 2021 on a high note with the WTA Finals title in Guadalajara and reached the quarterfinals in Sydney in her first hit-out of the new season. 

No.4 Barbora Krejcikova

Champion: Roland Garros 2021
Best AO result: R64 2020, 2021

Few could have foreseen an unseeded doubles specialist, who fell in the second round of the Australian Open last year, was set to become just the third Czech singles champion in the ensuing major. 

So it was for then-25-year-old Krejcikova at Roland Garros in 2021, when she saved a match point against Maria Sakkari before her triumph against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

Krejcikova added second-week runs in singles at Wimbledon and the US Open and began this season with a deep run in Sydney.

No.8 Iga Swiatek

Champion: Roland Garros 2020
Best AO result: 4R 2020, 2021

It was quite the ascent for teenager Swiatek, who barely two years after her junior singles triumph at Wimbledon, became the first Polish player to win a Grand Slam singles trophy at Roland Garros. 

That extraordinary breakthrough against then-reigning Australian Open champion Kenin made her the youngest women's champion in Paris since Monica Seles 28 years earlier.

Swiatek climbed as high as world No.4 last September with titles in Adelaide and Rome last season. She fell to Barty in the semifinals of her Adelaide title defence last week.

No.12 Sofia Kenin

Champion: Australian Open 2020

The Moscow-born Kenin was a woman on mission at Australian Open 2020. Steely when under the pump, she toppled world No.1 Barty before a surprise triumph over dual major champion Muguruza in the final.

Kenin kept raising the bar in Melbourne in 2020

Just 21 at the time, she was the youngest American Slam champion since Serena Williams at Wimbledon in 2002. A former world No.4, Kenin added a Roland Garros runner-up showing in 2020 but struggled for form in 2021.

With her father back as coach for the new season, she reached the quarterfinals in Adelaide where she fell to Barty. 

No.14 Naomi Osaka

Champion: Australian Open 2019, 2021; US Open 2018, 2020

The most prolific Grand Slam champion in this year's women's singles draw, Japan's Osaka made a welcome return last week with a semifinal finish at a Melbourne lead-up event.

It marked the former No.1's first outing since she shut down her season last September to prioritise her mental health. 

Osaka's second Australian Open triumph over American Jennifer Brady last February added to her two US Open trophies and marked a high point in a truncated season, which saw her fall to world No.13. She is a perfect 4-0 in four major finals. 

Osaka has a perfect record in major deciders
No.15 Simona Halep

Champion: Roland Garros 2018, Wimbledon 2019
Best AO result: RU 2018

A calf injury wiped out much of former world No.1 Halep's season as she missed Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the Olympics. 

It led to a brief departure from the top 20, but the dual major champion returned in style in her Melbourne lead-up tournament last week, when she secured her first silverware since Rome 2020.

It was the ideal preparation as the Romanian eyed a return to the top 10 and before her 12th Australian Open appearance, where she lost the final to Caroline Wozniacki in 2018.

No.17 Angelique Kerber

Champion: Australian Open 2016, US Open 2016, Wimbledon 2018

Germany's triple major champion Kerber enjoyed a mid-season resurgence in 2021 with a run to the Wimbledon semifinals before eventual champion Barty ended her hopes. 

It was the first time Kerber had passed the fourth round at a major since her 2018 title run at the All England Club. A champion at Melbourne Park in 2016, when she dethroned Serena Williams, Kerber also defeated Pliskova for the US Open title that year.

She has not played since a quarterfinal exit at Indian Wells in October.

No.18 Emma Raducanu

Champion: US Open 2021
Best AO result: Never played

In a season that proved anything but routine, Raducanu became the most unlikely of Grand Slam champions at Flushing Meadows with a ground-breaking run through qualifying and the main draw to deny fellow first-time major finalist Leylah Fernandez. 

Raducanu came from nowhere to win in New York last year

The first British woman to hold a Grand Slam trophy since Wimbledon 2017, the 150th-ranked 19-year-old ended the season in the top 20.

It has not been the smoothest of rides since, having won two of her subsequent six matches, as the teenager adjusted to her newfound status and overcame a bout of Covid-19.

No.21 Petra Kvitova

Champion: Wimbledon 2011, 2014
Best AO result: RU 2019

Three years ago, former world No.2 Kvitova made an emotional return to her first major final in five years at Melbourne Park. With the world No.1 ranking on the line, she came up short against a resolute Osaka in three sets in her attempt to add to a pair of Wimbledon trophies.

The Czech's triumph in Doha, following a second-round departure from the Australian Open last year, gave her titles across three decades but she ended the season without having passed the third round at the four majors.

Kvitova has opened the new season with a 1-2 record on the eve of her 13th campaign at Melbourne Park.

No.25 Victoria Azarenka

Champion: Australian Open 2012, 2013

A decade since the first of her two championships at Melbourne Park, former world No.1 Azarenka returns in search of her first Grand Slam singles quarterfinal since Australian Open 2016. 

It's been nine years since the second of Azarenka's back-to-back Melbourne titles

The Belarusian fell to eventual quarterfinalist Jessica Pegula at the opening hurdle last year, but after an injury-interrupted season she rebounded to notch her third Indian Wells final, where Paula Badosa prevailed. 

Azarenka avenged that loss en route to the quarterfinals in Adelaide last week.

No.28 Jelena Ostapenko

Champion: Roland Garros 2017
Best AO result: R32 2017, 2018

The first Latvian to land a Grand Slam title, the hyper-aggressive Ostapenko did so with a stunning upset of Halep at Roland Garros 2017. 

While she managed a semifinal showing at Wimbledon a year later, the 24-year-old has found consistency hard to come by, with her best run at Melbourne Park a couple of third-round appearances.

Ostapenko bowed out to Badosa in her only lead-up match prior to Australian Open 2022.

No.68 Sloane Stephens

Champion: US Open 2017
Best AO result: SF 2013

Newly married in the off-season, Stephens made a belated return to Australia ahead of her 10th appearance at the season's opening major.

Stephens has yet to re-scale the heights of her 2017 US Open triumph

The site of her maiden Slam semifinal in 2013, when she surprised Serena Williams, Stephens did not push as deep again at a major until her triumph over good friend Madison Keys for the 2017 US Open trophy. She beat Keys again in an all-American semifinal at the following year's French Open, but fell in the decider to top seed Halep after being up a set and a break. 

Stephens went down to Yulia Putintseva in the opening round last year.

No.480 Sam Stosur

Champion: US Open 2011
Best AO result: 4R 2006, 2010

Former world No.4 Stosur will bring down the curtain on a successful singles career with her 20th Australian Open appearance in 2022.

The 37-year-old's best major results consistently came at Roland Garros where she reached her maiden Slam final in 2010, but it was a shock victory over Serena Williams in the 2011 US Open final where she broke through.

Stosur reached the second round at Australian Open 2021, and fell in her only lead-up singles match in Melbourne this year.