The three most recent times Iga Swiatek and Danielle Collins played all resulted in wins for the World No.1. In two of those matches, Collins managed to collect only a single game.
But the last time they played in Australia, in 2022, Collins scored a 6-4, 6-1 victory that sent her flying into the final.
“I’ve played her a couple of times, had some great matches with her — and some not-so-great matches,” Collins told reporters after a three-set first-round victory over Angelique Kerber. “So, hopefully, I can have one of my best days on court because I think against the best players you have to bring your best.
“Tough little bracket that we have. I just think it speaks to the level of women’s tennis and the depth we have. You’ve got to be ready no matter who you play. Yeah, I’m ready.”
Swiatek was pushed in her 7-6 (2), 6-2 first-round win over 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin. She’ll play Collins on Thursday in a match with all kinds of juice.
Swiatek has now won 17 straight matches, going back to title runs last year in Beijing and Cancun. She’s 6-0 so far this year in the Australian swing.
Last year, Swiatek fashioned more 6-0 sets than any other Hologic WTA Tour player — 23. Factoring 6-1 scores, the total was an astonishing 54, some 28 more than the next-best total of Jessica Pegula.
Kenin, though, managed to get to 6-all before falling in that first-set tiebreak. After a 68-minute first set (more of a typical match time for Swiatek), she turned up the heat in the second, serving five aces, no double faults and saving all three break points she faced.
“I tried to find my rhythm, especially in the first set,” Swiatek said. “I’m happy at the end of the set I could win the most important points. Danielle is a really good player. Our last match [2023 Cincinnati], from the score, I had it under control. We’ll see. Every match is different. I’m not going to anticipate anything.”
Based on Collins’ success in Melbourne, it’s reasonable to expect some serious resistance.
The 30-year-old American’s big break at the majors came here in 2019, when she raced into the semifinals. Collins lost the 2022 final to Ashleigh Barty in a second-set tiebreak. Collins’ record at the Australian Open is a robust 16-5; the mark at the other three Grand Slams combined is 19-19.
“Iga’s game speaks for itself,” Collins said. “She has all the tools and her athletic ability and the talent … it’s hard for everyone. I’m going to have to sit down with my coach [Jared Jacobs] and go over some strategy and think about how I want to play my match against her. I need to just sit down and wrap my head around it.”
New year for Raducanu
When we last saw Emma Raducanu at the Australian Open, out on Court 1573, she fell in a second-set tiebreak to Coco Gauff. One year later, same court, different result. Raducanu was a 6-3, 6-2 winner over Shelby Rogers.
“The Emma who walked on court 12 months ago had a huge cyst removed about 10 days before, had to offload,” she said afterward. “I traveled here on a wheelchair. I only started hitting three days before the match. That whole process was a lot of stress. We weren’t sure if I was going to be able to play here.
“But I think this year and now there’s just a lot more calm. I think I’m more level-headed. It’s just more of an equilibrium.”
Indeed, coming off an eight-month break following ankle and wrist surgeries, there’s a lot less drama surrounding Raducanu. She takes on Wang Yafan in a second-round match. Wang, a 29-year-old from China, knocked out No.22 seed Sorana Cirstea 0-6, 7-5, 6-2. Wang is ranked No.94 — 202 spots ahead of Raducanu.
What would success look like, Raducanu was asked before the tournament, for her in Melbourne and beyond?
“I think success to me in the long term is, for the rest of the year, to play a full season, to be healthy throughout, to be able to train consistent weeks,” she said. “I know my level is there, I just need to keep working on it to make it more consistent.”
A fast, furious start
Outside of Swiatek and Gauff (who are undefeated), no one is off to a better start in 2024 than Emma Navarro.
The 22-year-old American has won nine of 10 matches. She was a semifinalist at the ASB Classic (losing to Gauff) and won her first career title a week later at the Hobart International. Navarro beat five Top 100 players, including No.29 Elise Mertens in the final.
The No.27 seed took out Wang Xiyu, a formidable, rising player, in a three-set match that ran past two and-a-half hours. Next up: Elisabetta Cocciaretto, a 6-1, 7-5 winner over qualifier Lulu Sun.
Playing for Virginia, Navarro was the 2021 NCAA singles champion and is one of four to have added a WTA Tour title this century, joining Collins, Lisa Raymond and Jil Craybas. Navarro also reached the 2019 Australian Open junior doubles final.
A huge edge in experience
Victoria Azarenka, after a tricky first-round win over Camila Giorgi, finds herself in the second round in Melbourne for the 13th time. For her opponent, 21-year-old Clara Tauson, it’s the second.
“This is what I think with some of the younger talent,” Azarenka said of Tauson, “you see that they can play unbelievable tennis, and they are so dangerous, and they’re so, so good, but the consistency and development of them as a player sometimes I feel like can be a bit better.
“When you play a Grand Slam, I feel like she can be a very dangerous player.”
The No.18 seed has 48 match-wins at the Australian Open, surpassing Steffi Graf and sixth best in the Open Era. Here’s an exceedingly fun fact: With a win over Tauson, Azarenka will have 95 hard-court major wins — equaling Martina Hingis and Maria Sharapova.
Azarenka won their only previous match, three years ago at Roland Garros.