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AO qualifying: Who can make a Raducanu-like run?

  • Dan Imhoff

When Emma Raducanu’s stars slowly but surely began to align at Flushing Meadows last year, few could quite believe what was about to unfold for the teenaged qualifier, who was ranked 150th at the time.

No contender in Grand Slam history had forged their way through three rounds of qualifying before embarking on a fearless charge through the main draw, all the way to the silverware.

DRAW: Australian Open women's singles qualifying

The chances are slim, at best, that a player in next week's Australian Open qualifying events goes on to emulate Raducanu’s feat.

However, the stars do occasionally align for someone to reach the main draw then make a run to the second week.

DRAW: Australian Open men's singles qualifying

Such was the case for Russian Aslan Karatsev at Australian Open 2021 where, as the world No.114, he qualified and became the first man to reach the semifinals in his Grand Slam debut. 

Given the perfect mix of form and fitness, plus the right draw, these are the contenders best placed to do something similar.

Roman Safiullin

No Andrey Rublev, Karen Khachanov, Karatsev or Evgeny Donskoy? No worries for Russia.

Last year it was Karatsev, the unheralded third name in the team who helped a pair of established top-tenners guide Russia to its maiden ATP Cup.

This year, following three Covid-related withdrawals and Khachanov's decision to play in Adelaide, world No.167 Roman Safiullin was called in to fill the No.2 singles and doubles spots for Russia alongside world No.2 Daniil Medvedev.

The Australian Open 2015 boys’ singles champion had won only three tour-level matches before 2022, but in Sydney he claimed two singles victories over opponents ranked more than 100 places higher.

He seriously tested world No.10 Jannik Sinner, and then world No.14 Denis Shapovalov in a three-set semifinal clash, and also combined with Medvedev to win three of four doubles matches.

The 24-year-old qualified and reached the second round at both the Australian Open and Roland Garros last year and claimed Challenger Tour wins over Andy Murray and Jack Sock.

Anastasia Gasanova

One of the in-form names in the women’s qualifying draw, Russian bolter Anastasia Gasanova has more than halved her ranking in the space of a year to No.130 and made an emphatic start to 2022 with victory over eighth seed Elina Svitolina in Adelaide.

It was the 22-year-old’s second top 20 upset after she opened last season with a win over Karolina Pliskova at her tour debut in Abu Dhabi.

Gasanova holds a 4-0 record against top 45-ranked opponents after she added wins over Roland Garros runner-up Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova for a maiden WTA quarterfinal in St Petersburg last year and Jil Teichman in Cluj Napoca.

Tomas Machac

It sure takes some living up to when touted as one of the next great Czech hopes given the names that have come before him, but Tomas Machac could be one of the best placed to make inroads at this year’s Australian Open.

The 21-year-old sprung wins over world No.25 Daniel Evans and former top-tenner Richard Gasquet in November's Davis Cup Finals and reached the second round at the Tokyo Olympics before falling to Diego Schwartzman.

The Czech has already started 2022 on a tear, winning his third ATP Challenger final in Traralgon on Sunday with victories over the likes of former top-40 player Mikhail Kukushkin.

Machac qualified for his second Grand Slam at last year’s Australian Open where he pushed 10th seed Matteo Berrettini to four sets in the second round.

Zheng Qinwen

Chinese 19-year-old Zheng Qinwen registered on few pundits’ radars until her first event of the new season in Melbourne.

In just her fourth WTA main draw appearance, the world No.126 won through qualifying and beat the likes of former world No.2 Vera Zvonareva and former world No.20 Ana Konjuh to reach her maiden WTA semifinal at the Melbourne Summer Set 1 this week.

It took two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep to end her run and the Romanian had high praise for the teenager’s powerful all-court game.

"Very powerful. Some balls I didn't even see them. I was surprised; well, good surprised," Halep remarked. "She's serving pretty strong also; 180 the first serve, which is huge, and she's so young. I feel like she has a bright future, and for sure if she keeps this way of playing, she will be good."

Zheng was ranked No.630 before she strung together consecutive ITF titles in August and September 2020. In November last year, she picked up her seventh ITF title from as many finals in Portugal.

Maximilian Marterer

After missing more than six months in 2019 due to a knee injury, former world No.45 Maximilian Marterer feels a sense of unfinished business.

The German landed a Challenger title in Bratislava in 2020 on his steady road back and in his first season fully fit again, qualified for Roland Garros and the US Open last year.

But it is the 26-year-old left-hander’s breakout season, in 2018, which will fuel his belief he still has what it takes to make a run to the second week of a major.

He has done so once already, when he beat Ryan Harrison and then-24th seed Denis Shapovalov on a run to the fourth round at Roland Garros that year.

It followed his third-round showing at the Australian Open earlier in 2018, when he brought down former top-tenner Fernando Verdasco in five sets before eventual quarterfinalist Tennys Sandgren stopped him.

Caty McNally

While better known as one half of the successful “McCoco” doubles partnership with Coco Gauff, 20-year-old Caty McNally stood on the cusp of a top 100 singles debut two years ago following her maiden WTA semifinal in Washington.

The American, a runner-up in the 2018 Roland Garros girls’ singles, took a set off Serena Williams in a tight second-round match at the US Open that year and advanced to the third round in 2020 with a win over 21st seed Ekaterina Alexandrova.

While McNally qualified for Wimbledon in 2019, her best results have all come on hard courts.

Meanwhile, three of her four doubles titles have come with Gauff and together they have reached a pair of Australian Open quarterfinals and last year’s US Open final.

Mai Hontama

Japanese No.4 Mai Hontama made a stunning WTA main draw debut on the hard courts of Chicago in October with a run to the quarterfinals as a qualifier.

The 22-year-old dropped just three games at the WTA 500 event against former world No.4 Caroline Garcia and ground out a three-set triumph over Ash Barty’s US Open conqueror Shelby Rogers, before Garbine Muguruza halted her progression.

Ranked 343rd in late April, Hontama has since slashed her ranking to a career-best No.150, incidentally the same mark at which Raducanu entered last year’s US Open qualifying event.

A champion at an ITF event in Porto in June, Hontama also won through qualifying to make her Indian Wells main draw debut and finished the season with a 39-15 record, with the majority of those wins coming at ITF level.