Tennis is back! The top tennis players from around the world have flocked to Melbourne to vie for the first grand slam of the 2021 season.
Since her return to the WTA Tour after giving birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian, Jr., all eyes are on Serena Williams, who is searching for her 24th Grand Slam singles title, which would tie her with Australia’s Margaret Court for the most all-time on both the men’s and women’s side.
Unlike on the men’s side with “the Big Three” of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, the women’s side has seen a wave of first-time Grand Slam champions recently. Just last year, Sofia Kenin from the United States and Iga Swiatek from Poland won their maiden major title.
So, it is no surprise that there are many women ready to challenge history in the making and to create history for themselves. Let’s take a look at some relatively unknown players on the women’s side who might just shock the die-hard tennis fans and shake up the draws.
Seed No. 20 Maria Sakkari
Sakkari brings power and precision to the court. Reaching the fourth round for the first time in her career at the 2020 U.S. Open, Sakkari has proved that she is ready to go toe-to-toe with heavy-hitting opponents such as Serena Williams, whom she defeated at the Western and Southern Open in three sets prior to the U.S. Open. Her form has not let up at the beginning of the 2021 season, making a semifinal run in WTA 500 events in Abu Dhabi and Melbourne. She looks to go all the way and secure Greece’s first grand slam. She faces an experienced and crafty doubles player in France’s Kristina Mladenovic in the first round.
Seed No. 27 Ons Jabeur
Jabeur made her presence known to the world when she reached the quarterfinals of the 2020 Australian Open, defeating former world number one Caroline Wozniacki from Denmark along the way. Having risen over 40 spots in the rankings since her run in Melbourne last year, Jabeur uses her slices, drop shots and lethal power to trouble opponents and get them out of their comfort zone. She hopes to slice and dice her way through the Australian tennis courts to hoist in what would be a historic first for Tunisian sports. She faces the German veteran Andrea Petkovic in the first round.
Qualifier Tsvetana Pironkova
Who returns to professional tennis after being away for three years to become a mother and reaches the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open in her first tournament back? Tsvetana Pironkova. It is already an incredible feat to train and come back to professional tennis, but to reach the quarterfinals in one of the biggest tournaments of the season after not touching a racket for three years displays Pironkova’s skills on the court. A former semifinalist at Wimbledon, Pironkova’s flat ball-striking has hampered the rhythm of many players on the WTA Tour. She defeated two-time Grand Slam champion Garbiñe Muguruza en route to a three-set loss to Serena Williams in Flushing Meadows in 2020. She faces Hsieh Su-Wei, the No. 1 doubles player in the world, from Chinese Taipei with a potential second-round match up with Canadian phenom and 2019 U.S. Open Champion Bianca Andreescu lined up next.
Collins is no stranger to the big stage in Melbourne. She reached her first-ever Grand Slam semifinal at the 2019 Australian Open, defeating three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber along the way. Although her form dipped slightly at the beginning of the 2020 season, she found her rhythm again once the WTA Tour resumed after the COVID-19 hiatus, where she made a quarterfinal run at the French Open, losing to Kenin. Her aggressive baseline tactics and focused demeanor on the court will be the keys in reclaiming the glory of reaching the final four in Melbourne and hopefully going all the way. Collins faces Romanian Ana Bogdan in the first round with the possibility of facing a top-10 opponent in Czech Republic’s Karolina Pliskova in the second round.
Contact Jordan John Lee at jjslee22 ‘at’ stanford.edu.