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What the stats tell us about Osaka – and the other comeback queens

  • Patric Ridge

Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka, Elena Rybakina and Coco Gauff are among the favourites at Australian Open 2024, but it is the comeback queens grabbing much of the pre-tournament limelight.

Former AO champions Naomi Osaka, Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki, plus 2021 US Open champion Emma Raducanu and 2019 Roland Garros semifinalist Amanda Anisimova, are all returning to Melbourne Park after absences from the sport.

MORE: AO 2024 women's singles draw

Osaka was just 21 when she won the first of her two AO titles in 2019. The former world No.1 withdrew from Australian Open 2023, confirming she was expecting her first child – her daughter, Shai, later born in July.

She returned to the court at last week’s Brisbane International, recording an encouraging win over Tamara Korpatsch before falling to Karolina Pliskova.

Osaka, now 26, holds the highest AO match-win percentage (82.8 per cent) among all women’s singles players at Melbourne Park in 2024; she and Victoria Azarenka are the only active female players to have clinched multiple Australian Open titles.

Overall, Osaka has 24 AO match wins and only five defeats, giving her the ninth-best win rate at the tournament in the Open Era. If she reaches the final, Osaka will have a chance to become just the second player, after Monica Seles, to win each of their first five Grand Slam finals. This is a record top seed Swiatek also has a chance to match.

Kerber triumphed at AO 2016. The 35-year-old’s last major success came at Wimbledon in 2018, and is the only active player to win at least one major title at three different tournaments; her other success came at the US Open in 2016.

A second-round contest with Swiatek would be on the cards if Kerber can overcome AO 2022 runner-up Danielle Collins.

MORE: Counting down the top-10 can't-miss first-round clashes

Wozniacki’s sole major title came at AO 2018. The Dane has an impressive 32-12 AO record and faces 2023 semifinalist Magda Linette – the 20th seed – in round one.

Since the 2022 US Open, Anisimova has played just 11 matches, winning just three. She does, however, have a history of success in Melbourne.

A few months prior to her breakout at Roland Garros, the then 17-year-old upset Sabalenka en route to the fourth round at AO 2019 – her first appearance in the second week of a major. Three years later, she saved match points to stun defending champion Osaka and return to the fourth round, where she fell to eventual champion Ash Barty.

MORE STATS: The numbers behind the young trio aiming to end Djokovic's reign

Raducanu, meanwhile, did not play for the rest of 2023 after April as she recovered from wrist and ankle surgery. She fell to Gauff in an entertaining second-round match at AO 2023, will face Shelby Rogers first up. Having defeated the American on the journey to her shock win at the US Open, Raducanu will hope another victory can spark another famous major run.

Raducanu fell to Gauff in the second round in Melbourne a year ago

These comeback queens will all be unseeded, and the history books make the scale of their task clear.

MORE: Five key takeaways from the AO 2024 women's draw

Only twice in the Open Era has the women’s AO title been lifted by an unseeded player: in 1978 by Chris O’Neil and in 2007 by Serena Williams.

The trophy has been lifted by four different players in the last four seasons – Sofia Kenin in 2020, followed by Osaka, Barty and Sabalenka. Only once in the Open Era has there been different winners for five or more years.

It is over a decade since Azarenka won back-to-back AO titles, as she remains the last woman to defend her title at Melbourne Park. Sabalenka will be hoping to buck that trend, and the reigning champion could also match another Azarenka record by becoming the second player in the Open Era to win her first two major titles at AO.

MORE: "Super happy" Sabalenka embracing return to Melbourne

Gauff, meanwhile, is out to win back-to-back Grand Slam titles, something no teen has done since Martina Hingis won the 1997 US Open and AO 1998. The last female player to win consecutive majors was Osaka – US Open 2018 followed by Australian Open 2019.

It will be intriguing to see how she and the other comeback stars fare as part of one of the strongest and most competitive main-draw line-ups seen in years.