New Year, New Slam Champ!

Sabalenka- Australian Open champion 2023
Aryna Sabalenka – Champion in Melbourne

It’s the end of January 2023, and after one month of the new season plenty has happened.

The Australian Open 2023 was very entertaining and ended with a great win for Aryna Sabalenka. Sabalenka has been a top-10 player for five years but has always fallen short in Grand Slams. It took several years for her to make a second week, but she has made a few semifinals, but stumbled at that stage. Notably, the 2021 US Open where she allowed Layla Fernandez back into the match and even the 2022 US Open saw her lead Swiatek by a set but lose. However, she began the 2023 season really well. She took the title in Adelaide and went through to the Australian Open final without dropping a set. 

Her opponent in the final was the Wimbledon champion, Elena Rybakina, who has been a players I’ve admired for a while. Rybakina backed up her Wimbledon win very very well with a fantastic run to the final. A run that included a very convincing win over the world number one Iga Świątek. 

Sabalenka and Rybakina

Rybakina and Sabalenka are both aggressive players and the final was probably one of the best Grand Slam finals in recent years. However, for many of us WTA fans seeing Aryna Sabalenka win was actually very heartwarming. One year ago Sabalenka was having real difficulties with her serve, often serving many double faults and memorably in Adelaide, she was in tears and serving underarm. The fact that she battled through this, and finished the year well, making the WTA finals was a real testament to her grit determination. The way that she handled this situation with such good humour and self-deprecation was very endearing.

Sabalenka also lost her dad just a few years ago very suddenly, and her Instagram post was a sweet touch.

In many ways there have been a lot of first time slam champion that seem to have come out of nowhere (Raducanu, Krejcikova, Ostapenko, Andreescu, Rybakina), but Sabalenka’s win was the first time that somebody who has been pushing for a Grand Slam for years and has been there and thereabouts has actually made it. Sabalenka has been a top five player, and promising this type of result for a long time. The way that she played her fearless aggressive brand of tennis, never holding back and yet being the stronger player ultimately was quite an achievement. For Rybakina, this was also a brilliant tournament. She is now deservedly in the top 10 after getting no points for the Wimbledon victory and began this tournament playing on court 13, something that a Wimbledon champion should not be doing. More than that though, Rybakina looked the part in Melbourne. Still her usual undemonstrative self, she nevertheless was quietly confident in press and seems to have overcome any imposter syndrome. All in all, a great final, really competitive and a great advert for attacking WTA tennis. Plus Sabalenka’s champion photoshoot was an absolute hoot!

January was also a pretty good month for my faves. Petra Kvitova had her best start to the season for quite a long time. She began the season playing in the new team competition, the United Cup. This is a mixed competition and the Czech team was very young and experienced apart from Petra. However, in her first match of the season she defeated world number three Jessica Pegula. This is even more impressive in light of what Pegula went on to do, which was beat world number 1, Iga Swiatek very convincingly. Pegula had a great start to the year and at that point looked like one of the favourites for the Australian Open title. 

Petra also had a run to the quarter-finals in Adelaide but was a little fortunate to get the win over rising Chinese star Qinwen Zheng. However, in the previous round, probably the most impressive win was over Elena Rybakina, who would go onto make the Australian Open final. Excellent controlled power from Petra after losing to Rybakina in a tight match in Ostrava. Petra‘s Australian Open was better than last year, but not by much. She won her first round match against Alison Van Uytvank, but a second round match against Anhelina Kalilina ended in defeat. An uncharacteristic defeat in that Petra actually played pretty well, but Kalinina just didn’t miss. Here’s hoping 2023 will bring more success. 

For my other favourites, the Australian Open proved to be another victory for the doubles team of Krejcikova and Siniakova. The Czech duo won their 24th Grand Slam doubles match in a row and took their seventh Grand Slam title, and relatively comfortably at that. After a rusty round 1 against a low ranked pair who pushed them to three sets, it was full game face on for the Czechs and not another set was dropped. While I am a huge fan of Krejcikova and Siniaková, the way the other doubles teams folded made the competition a bit disappointing and low key. The Czechs have now won 7 ladies doubles titles, Krejcikova now has 11 grand slam titles in total. They are the undisputed queens of the slam doubles, even if the tour no-ad and match tie break rule means thy have not actually won a WTA doubles title since the Year End Championships in 2021.

In many ways, watching Krejcikova and Siniaková has been my favourite things at slams. Petra is forever my number one, but I’m always so anxious watching her, it isn’t terribly enjoyable! Whereas Krejcikova and Siniakova are so good, so solid that ii is slightly less anxiety inducing. (Although I wasn’t saying that when they blew the YEC final in the match tie break!)

In singles Krejcikova started 2023 slowly after an injury hit end of the year. However she did make the fourth round of the Australian Open before losing in a very competitive match to Jessica Pegula. The fast conditions suited Pegula’s flat hitting, and she took time away from Krejcikova, not giving her time for her loopier shots. At this point in the tournament, Pegula was looking like one of the big favourites, but went down surprisingly limply to a resurgent Vika Azarenka. 

One of the stories of the Australian Open was the performance of world number one Iga Świątek. Going into 2023, Iga Świątek was by far the number one player with more than double the points of the number two player, Ons Jabeur. However, it was always going to be difficult for her to maintain the dominance she showed in the early part of 2022. What we got in the first month was a more nervy looking Swiatek. This began with a heavy defeat defeat to Jessie Pegula in the United cup, and was followed by another comprehensive defeat in the Australian Open R4 to Elena Rybakina. Undoubtedly, Swiatek will bounce back, but a number of other players are probably in better form right now. With the Australian Open title, and also winning the Adelaide title, Aryna Sabalenka is undefeated and back to number 2 in the world. For many players after winning their first Grand Slam, there is a slump, however, I would not be surprised if she could buck that trend. That remains to be seen.

 Also making their mark in 2023 are a couple of young Czech Lindas! Linda Noskova made the final in Adelaide before losing to Sabalenka. Linda Fruvirtova made the fourth round of the Australian Open. The Czech women look good to continue to excel (and the two young men, Macek – boyfriend of Siniakova and Lehecka made an impression too.)

Other players to make a mark out in Australia included Polish player Magda Linette. She has been officially a ‘tricky’ player for a while. She took out an in form Ons Jabeur in the first round of Roland Garros last year and has always been solid professional. Karolina Pliskova had seemed to be sliding down the rankings after some flat performances, but thanks to a fortunate draw , made the quarter-finals of Australian Open. The Croatian player Donna Vekic is also enjoying a career resurgence, making the quarter-finals of the Australian Open. Vekic has always been a talented player, but a spate of injuries and loss of form saw her slide down the rankings. I actually saw her play live in qualifying of the Birmingham 250 – yes, playing QUALIFYING at a 250! Good to see that she is back up into the top 50. 

Less lucky is Katerina Siniakova who is officially my number three favourite player these days. She had the misfortune to draw Coco Gauff in the first round of the Australian Open, and after a nervy first set pushed her hard in the second set but was ultimately beaten in straight sets. Siniakova, was also somebody who had a six love victory in the first set and ultimately lost a match in the qualifying for Adelaide this year. A feat shared with the hapless Garbiñe Mugaruza, who is just on a nightmare run at the moment. In Adelaide, she was leading Bianca Andreescu six love and a break, yet managed to lose. And she has just gone on to lose and lose and lose. 

After the way Mugaruza disrespected my #2 fave, Krejcikova in the US Open fourth round in 2021 when she called her ‘so unprofessional’,  I’ve had her on my shit list basically. However, after taking the Year End championships in 2021, Mugaruza had a wretched, 2022 winning only a handful of matches. Mugaruza is a two-time slam champion, but is completely lacking confidence at the moment. 

Another player whose 2022 was disappointing was Anett Kontaveit who has slid down from world number 2, and will drop out of the top 50 this week. Long Covid, injury and loss of form for the likeable Estonian means she is back to the drawing board once she can get fit. Paula Badosa’s form has slipped a lot too. Another hit by injury but also lack of confidence and form. I am also a little concerned about Ons Jabeur, who while still in the top 3, has a lot to prove as she has done very little since the US Open final and seems to have an injury.

Caroline Garcia ended 2022 as the WTA Finals Champion, but disappointed in Australia and just lost the final in her home tournament in Lyon to fast rising talented American, Alycia Parks, who is 6’1” and serves like Venus and Serena!

One of my tips for the Aussie Open was Belinda Bencic who ended 2022 with a superb showing for Switzerland at the BJK Cup finals in November. She is with Dimitri Tursanov now and has just won her second 500 level tournament of the year in Abu Dhabi. This could be a big year for Belinda

So here’s hoping we have a great WTA 2023 with lots of wins for my faves. 

My new year wishes? A 30th singles title for PetraKvitova. Krejcikova back to the top 10. Siniaková to crack the top 30. Krejcikova and Siniaková to win Roland Garros and so hold all 4 grand slam titles.

Please. Thank you. 

By Kvittycat53

WTA tennis fan, especially Petra Kvitova, Barbora Krejcikova, Kateřina Siniaková

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