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Ricky’s picks for the Australian Open women’s draw: Watch out for Pegula and Garcia

There are sizable favorites in both the men’s and women’s fields at the Australian Open: Novak Djokovic and Iga Swiatek. But they are not going to be handed trophies on a silver player–especially not in the case of Swiatek, who has never triumphed Down Under.

The world No. 1 lost in the year-end championship semifinals to conclude 2022 and her recent United Cup campaign ended with a 6-2, 6-2 setback against Jessica Pegula. Swiatek is by no means unbeatable, so here is a look at four other women who could contend for the Aussie Open title.

Ons Jabeur

Jabeur is the No. 2 player in the world, yet she still seems to be flying under the radar. That’s because her 2022 fall swing was unspectacular and she lost last week in Adelaide to world No. 102 Linda Noskova. But don’t sleep on the veteran Tunisian–especially not on the biggest stages in tennis. After all, she has finished runner-up at each of the past two slams (Wimbledon and the U.S. Open). Jabeur has a favorable draw at Melbourne Park, too, so there is no reason why she can’t get over the hump and go all the way.

Carolina Garcia

Garcia is coming off the best year of her career in which she lifted a 1000-point trophy in Cincinnati, made a run to the U.S. Open semis, and triumphed at the year-end championship. The Frenchwoman has always been one of the most talented players in the world (just ask Andy Murray!) and now she is putting it all together. Garcia will fancy her chances in the bottom half of the bracket, too–away from Swiatek, Pegula, two-time champion Victoria Azarenka, 2021 U.S. Open champ Emma Raducanu, 2022 Wimbledon winner Elena Rybakina, Coco Gauff, and Danielle Collins. Garcia may have to face Leylah Fernandez in the second round, but she otherwise has a great draw.

Jessica Pegula

As mentioned above, Pegula destroyed Swiatek 6-2, 6-2 at the United Cup while compiling a 4-1 record overall and leading the United States to the title. The 28-year-old heads to Melbourne with a ton of momentum and looks poised for more Grand Slam success. She is already a two-time Aussie Open quarterfinalist and reached the quarters at three of the four majors in 2022. Pegula finds herself in a difficult top half of the draw but as that result against Swiatek suggests, it may not matter who is on the other side of the net.

Belinda Benic

Bencic is coming off a title in Adelaide, where she positively crushed opponents for the most part. The Swiss capped off her run with a 6-0, 6-2 rout of Daria Kasatkina. Grand Slams have rarely been kind to Bencic; she has reached only one semifinal (2019 U.S. Open) and has never even been to a quarterfinal outside of New York. That being said, she is no stranger to success on the big stage. The 25-year-old captured gold a the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. In the bottom half of the draw away from Swiatek, Bencic has a great opportunity.

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on Twitter at @Dimonator.