Naomi Osaka moved to extinguish the painful memories from Indian Wells as she eased into the second round of the Miami Open.

The three-time grand slam champion, who was left in tears as she struggled to deal with a heckler during her second-round defeat to Veronika Kudermetova at Indian Wells, produced a composed display in South Florida to see off Astra Sharma 6-3 6-4.

Needing an hour and 20 minutes to defeat her Australian opponent, Osaka secured her 50th WTA 1000 win, one that sets up a battle of two former world number ones.

Osaka will next face Angelique Kerber, having kept her cool against Sharma despite converting just two of 11 break point opportunities and squandering three match points.

"I didn't want to let anything bother me, no matter what happened," Osaka said.

"The last match I played was not the greatest memory for me. I wanted to prove that I could come back out here and compete, and no matter if I won or lost, to just know that I had the best attitude I could."

Kerber promises to prove a much sterner test for Osaka, who has lost her last four matches against the German, having won their first encounter at the 2017 US Open.

Osaka's Japanese compatriot Misaki Doi crashed out in a straight-sets defeat to Vera Zvonareva, while promising teenager Clara Tauson retired in the third set of her match with Zhang Shuai.

Madison Brengle was among those to progress on Wednesday, continuing the theme of early American success.

Rafael Nadal sympathises with Naomi Osaka over the abuse she was subjected to at Indian Wells, but says athletes must be prepared to deal with it "as nothing is perfect in life".

Osaka was reduced to tears as she crashed out of the Indian Wells Open with a 6-0 6-4 third-round defeat to 21st seed Veronika Kudermetova on Saturday.

A member of the crowd could be heard shouting "Naomi, you suck" after the four-time grand slam champion had been broken in the first game of the match.

Osaka approached the chair umpire to report the incident and held further discussions with the court supervisor after being insulted again.

While accepting there is no place for such conduct, 21-time grand slam winner Nadal believes players should learn to cope with hostile environments.

"These kind of questions are tough to answer because, in some way, the easy answer for me is I feel terrible about what happened, that never should happen," he told reporters.

"The real thing, in the real world, that happens, you know? I feel very sorry for her. We are having, in my opinion, a great life. 

"We are very lucky people that we're able to enjoy amazing experiences because of our life, because we are tennis players. We make money.

"Even if is terrible to hear from that, we must be prepared for that. We need to resist these kind of issues that can happen when you are exposed to people. 

"At the same time, as we like a lot when the people are supporting, when something like this happens, we need to accept and move forward.

"I understand that probably Naomi, she suffered a lot with his probably kind of issues that she has, mental [health] issues. 

"The only thing that I wish for her is to recover well from that and wish her all the very best. But nothing is perfect in this life. We need to be ready for adversities."

Speaking shortly after the incident, an emotional Osaka said being targeted by the spectator reminded her of abuse the Williams sisters were subjected to at the same event.

Serena and Venus Williams were the victims of verbal abuse at the tournament in the Californian desert back in 2001.

The siblings' father, Richard Williams, claimed he had been racially abused at Indian Wells, while Venus Williams said she "heard whatever he heard".

Daniil Medvedev, who will concede his status as world number one back to Novak Djokovic from next week, said he can relate to how Osaka felt after recently hitting out at the "disrespectful" crowd at the Australian Open.

"I didn't see it with my own eyes, and I didn't watch the videos after, so I just heard it from someone who heard from someone, so I don't want to go too much into it," he said.

"It's tough for everybody because I can feel for Naomi. I mean, I felt not great in Australia. 

"You know they're [the players] getting millions. They should be ready for everything. At the same time, we're humans. We all make mistakes, good decisions. 

"Sometimes we feel bad. Sometimes we feel good. I can understand that Naomi didn't feel that great when she heard it and I can completely understand her feelings.

"Life would be easier if everybody would be calm and not angry but, even talking about me, I get angry, so I should be better also."

Andy Murray has expressed his sympathy for Naomi Osaka over the abuse she was subjected to at Indian Wells but says athletes must deal with it.

Osaka was reduced to tears as she crashed out of the Indian Wells Open with a 6-0 6-4 third-round defeat to 21st seed Veronika Kudermetova on Saturday.

A member of the crowd could be heard shouting "Naomi, you suck" after the four-time grand slam champion had been broken in the first game of the match.

Osaka approached the chair umpire to report the incident and held further discussions with the court supervisor after being insulted again.

Murray says there is no place for such conduct, but believes players must be able to ignore it.

He said: “It's a difficult one. I've often thought watching certain sports, I wouldn't say I've often seen it loads in tennis … but if I watch a football or a soccer match and a player's going to take throw-in or a corner kick and the crowd are just hurling insults at those individuals.

"I always think, how is that allowed? Like, you can't do that. If you're doing that to someone when you're walking down the street or in any other sort of work environment, that's obviously not tolerated.

"I've played in certain atmospheres as well myself in tennis, like Davis Cup atmospheres, away from home, especially where the atmosphere's intense, and sometimes things are said and it's not that comfortable.

"The people that come to watch, you want them to be there and supporting the players and not making it more difficult for them. I don't know, but it's also something that's always just kind of been part of sports as well."

He added: "If you go and watch a basketball match, for example, and a player's taking free throws, I would say like almost every basketball match I've been to one of the players has been heckled by the crowd as well

"While it's wrong for those individuals to be doing it, the athletes obviously have to kind of be used to that as well or be able to deal with that too, even though it's not pleasant.

"I feel for Naomi, that obviously it upset her a lot, but it’s always been something that's been part of sport, I guess, as well.

"You have to be prepared for that in some ways and be able to tolerate it because it does happen regularly across all sports."

An emotional Naomi Osaka says being targeted by a heckling spectator during her loss to Veronika Kudermetova reminded of abuse the Williams sisters were subjected to at the Indian Wells Open.

Osaka was reduced to tears as she crashed out with a 6-0 6-4 third-round defeat to 21st seed Veronika Kudermetova at Indian Wells on Saturday.

A member of the crowd could be heard shouting "Naomi, you suck" after the four-time grand slam champion had been broken in the first game of the match.

Osaka approached the chair umpire to report the incident and held further discussions with the court supervisor after being insulted again.

Serena and Venus Williams were subjected to verbal abuse at the prestigious tournament in the Californian desert back in 2001.

The legendary siblings' father, Richard Williams, claimed he had been racially abused at Indian Wells, while Venus Williams said she "heard whatever he heard".

Former world number one Osaka said while trying to hold back the tears after her exit: "I've been heckled before and it didn't really bother me.

"But being heckled here... I've watched videos of Venus and Serena get heckled here and if you've never watched it, you should watch it.

"I don't know why, but it went into my head and got replayed a lot. I just want to say thank you and congratulations [to Kudermetova]." 

Serena Williams boycotted the competition for 14 years before making her Indian Wells return in 2015.

Naomi Osaka was brought to tears by a heckling spectator during her Indian Wells Open match with Veronika Kudermetova before going on to lose 6-0 6-4.

The incident happened after Osaka had been broken by Kudermetova in the first game, with someone in attendance reported to have yelled "Naomi, you suck".

Four-time grand slam winner Osaka, competing in her first tournament since January's shock early Australian Open exit, appeared to ask the chair umpire to take action.

Osaka initially put that unneeded distraction behind her by taking the next point, but she wasted two break opportunities and Kudermetova successfully held to move 2-0 ahead.

The 24-year-old was in tears as she prepared to serve her next game and held further discussions with the court supervisor after going 3-0 down.

She could not recover and, after losing the first set 6-0, Osaka suffered the only break of serve in the seventh game of the second set to lose the contest fairly resoundingly. 

Kudermetova will now face Marie Bouzkova for a place in the last 16 after the Czech recovered to see off home hopeful Jessica Pegula 5-7 6-2 6-0.

Two-time champion Victoria Azarenka also made it through on Saturday with a 6-3 7-5 victory over lucky loser Astra Sharma, setting up a meeting with Elena Rybakina.

Leyla Fernandez saved four match points against Amanda Anisimova in a dramatic match that came to an end when the American retired through illness.

After losing the opener 6-2, Fernandez took the second set to a tie-break but felt unable to continue. Anisimova will meet Shelby Rogers in a rematch of last year's last-16 encounter.

Naomi Osaka produced a spirited performance as she defeated Sloane Stephens in three sets at Indian Wells on her return to the court.

Osaka was in action for the first time since a shock early exit at the Australian Open in January, but she ultimately had too much for Stephens in a 3-6 6-1 6-2 success.

Stephens initially looked the sharper of the two former major champions in the second-round clash, impressively taking a first-set lead, but Osaka found her groove after a slow start to level the contest.

Osaka then had to save three break points at 2-0 down in the decider, and that appeared to inspire another surge as she rattled off six successive games to roar to an emphatic win.

Shelby Rogers got past Nuria Parrizas-Dias in almost three hours, winning 6-1 5-7 7-6 (7-3), and last week's Monterrey Open runner-up Camila Osorio retired down 6-4 5-0 against Aliaksandra Sasnovich.

Yulia Putintseva got past Ashlyn Krueger 6-3 6-2 and Ukraine's Marta Kostyuk won in three hours and nine minutes over Maryna Zanevska 6-7 (5-7) 7-6 (8-6) 7-5.

Last month's Abierto Zapopan runner-up Marie Bouzkova eased past China's Wang Qiang 6-3 7-6 (7-5), while American Amanda Anisimova defeated compatriot Emma Navarro 6-2 6-2.

Naomi Osaka has been handed a difficult first round draw against 2017 US Open winner Sloane Stephens upon her return to the WTA Tour at Indian Wells which starts on Wednesday.

Four-time major winner Osaka has not played competitively since her 2022 Australian Open third-round exit to Amanda Anisimova in January.

The Japanese, whose ranking has dropped to 78th, had been handed a wild card for Indian Wells but was upgraded to the main draw after Camila Giorgi's withdrawal.

The Indian Wells draw was made on Monday with Osaka to face Stephens who won her first WTA title since 2018 with last month's Abierto Zapopan crown.

The top seeds all have been waived through to the second round with top seeds Barbora Krejcikova and Aryna Sabalenka book-ending the draw.

Naomi Osaka is taking pride from her Australian Open campaign despite suffering a shock third-round exit to unseeded Amanda Anisimova on Friday.

The two-time Melbourne champion fell short in her latest title defence with a 4-6 6-3 7-6 (10-5) loss to Anisimova in a thrilling contest on Margaret Court Arena.

Osaka, who eased past Camila Osorio and Madison Brengle in straight sets in the first two rounds, squandered two match points to overcome 20-year-old opponent Anisimova.

It means the Japanese star has now failed to defend any of her four major crowns, with Victoria Azarenka the last women's player to do so at Melbourne Park in 2012 and 2013.

But competing in her first competitive event since exiting the US Open to Leylah Fernandez in September, Osaka was pleased with her efforts.

"I fought for every point. I can't be sad about that," said Osaka, who nearly walked away from tennis last year.

"I'm not God, I can't win every match. It would be nice to win the tournament, but I can't think of winning the grand slam at the start of the year every time.

"I feel like I grew a lot in this match. The last time I played in New York I think I had a completely different attitude, so I'm really happy, even though I lost. I'm happy how it went."

Osaka's Australian Open title defence has been halted by a breakthrough American talent for the second time, having previously lost to Coco Gauff at the same stage in 2020.

Despite match points passing the world number 13 by, she refused to be too downbeat by the manner of the defeat.

"There are days that I'm going to have bad days, and there are days that I'm going to have great days," she said. 

"It's always random, and I never know, but no matter what happens for me, I just want to leave the court knowing that I fought for every point.

"Today, of course there were things I felt I could improve on, but even with that, I had two match points, and I think that's something that I can be proud of myself for."

Osaka had dropped just one set in her first five matches this season and looked in the mood as she raced ahead against Anisimova.

But Anisimova hit more than twice the number of winners that Osaka managed (46 to 21) to pull off a huge upset and set up a last-16 clash with top seed Ash Barty.

The American lifted her second career title at Melbourne Summer Set 2 earlier this month and has now won 10 of the last 11 matches she has played, including all eight in 2022. 

It is the first time Anisimova has won from match point down since the 2019 Mallorca Open and the youngster was lost for words in her on-court interview.

"I'm speechless. I absolutely love playing in front of you guys [the crowd] in Melbourne. It's honestly so much fun. I can't stop smiling," she said.

"I knew I had to be playing sharp if I wanted to give myself a chance, Naomi is always going to be playing well and she's an absolute champion. 

"I knew I had to step up my game and try to be aggressive, I think that's what I started doing in the second set.

"I'm so grateful I was able to play well and get this win, it means a lot. Stepping on to the court, all I'm thinking is having fun. Every day here is an amazing opportunity."

Defending Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka squandered two match points as she suffered a shock third-round exit at the hands of unseeded Amanda Anisimova on Friday.

Osaka eased past Camila Osorio and Madison Brengle in straight sets in the first two rounds but fell to a 4-6 6-3 7-6 (10-5) loss to Anisimova in a thrilling contest.

Anisimova, who won her second career title at Melbourne Summer Set 2 earlier this month and is now 8-0 for the season, will face top seed Ash Barty in the last 16.

Two-time Australian Open winner Osaka had won 24 of her past 25 matches in Melbourne and made a fast start against Anisimova by breaking her opponent in the first game.

She held serve to ease ahead on Margaret Court Arena, but Anisimova battled back well in the second set.

The world number 60 broke Osaka in the fourth game with a sublime disguised backhand drop and served out the set in a relatively straightforward manner.

Anisimova continued to dig in and saved two match points in the 10th game to help pave the way for a decisive first-to-10 tie-break.

Osaka had no response to her opponent's accurate hitting as she fell 3-0 behind and, while she did bring it back to 3-2 and 5-4, Anisimova took five of the next six points to advance in a big upset.

DATA SLAM: Osaka outgunned by Anisimova

Osaka had dropped just one set in her first five matches this season and looked in the mood as she raced ahead against Anisimova.

But the American youngster fired in 11 aces and hit more than twice the number of winners that Osaka managed (46 to 21) to pull off the victory.

With this defeat, Osaka has now failed to defend any of her four major crowns, with Victoria Azarenka the last women's player to do so at Melbourne Park in 2012 and 2013.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Anisimova – 46/44
Osaka – 21/45

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Anisimova – 11/8
Osaka – 5/3

BREAK POINTS WON
Anisimova – 1/8
Osaka – 1/10

Defending Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka squandered two match points as she suffered a shock third-round exit at the hands of unseeded Amanda Anisimova on Friday.

Osaka eased past Camila Osorio and Madison Brengle in straight sets in the first two rounds but fell to a 4-6 6-3 7-6 (10-5) loss to Anisimova in a thrilling contest.

Anisimova, who won her second career title at Melbourne Summer Set 2 earlier this month and is now 8-0 for the season, will face top seed Ash Barty in the last 16.

Two-time Australian Open winner Osaka had won 24 of her past 25 matches in Melbourne and made a fast start against Anisimova by breaking her opponent in the first game.

She held serve to ease ahead on Margaret Court Arena, but Anisimova battled back well in the second set.

The world number 60 broke Osaka in the fourth game with a sublime disguised backhand drop and served out the set in a relatively straightforward manner.

Anisimova continued to dig in and saved two match points in the 10th game to help pave the way for a decisive first-to-10 tie-break.

Osaka had no response to her opponent's accurate hitting as she fell 3-0 behind and, while she did bring it back to 3-2 and 5-4, Anisimova took five of the next six points to advance in a big upset.

Naomi Osaka will face Amanda Anisimova in round three of the Australian Open after easing past Madison Brengle on Wednesday.

The two-time champion in Melbourne won 6-0 6-4 to set up a meeting with the 20-year-old American, who earlier upset Olympic gold medallist Belinda Bencic in straight sets.

Despite a second-set wobble on serve that gave Brengle hope of a comeback, Osaka looked in comfortable control of the contest and has now dropped just one set in her five matches in 2022.

Brengle was a 6-2 6-2 winner in the only previous meeting in Rock Hill way back in 2013, when Osaka had just turned 16 and had barely any Tour experience. Against the Osaka of 2022, a four-time major champion, she had few answers.

Osaka tore through Brengle's defence in the opening set, wrapping it up in 20 minutes while dropping just three points on serve.

Brengle was credited with just one winner in her chaotic first-round match with Dayana Yastremska, who retired trailing 6-1 0-6 0-5. It was not until the second game of the second set that Brengle matched that tally, but it was worth the wait: a brutal inside-out backhand across court, celebrated with gusto, as she began to make inroads on the Osaka serve.

Osaka dug deep, saving three break points before holding for 2-1 and then another with a timely ace in her next service game. Her play was becoming erratic, though, and after saving a further three break points at 3-3, a wild overhead handed Brengle the breakthrough.

Yet if the 31-year-old thought then that the match was just getting started, it was suddenly over. Osaka broke back immediately with a backhand volley at the net and did not lose another point from there, clinching the contest when Brengle's passing shot dropped wide.

DATA SLAM: Osaka into overdrive

Brengle quadrupled her winner count from her first-round match, but the world number 54 was simply outgunned by Osaka when it came to rallies.

The Japanese star fired in 37 winners to 32 unforced errors, turning on the power just when it seemed like the contest was balancing out.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Brengle – 4/14
Osaka – 37/32

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Brengle – 0/1
Osaka – 8/1

BREAK POINTS WON
Brengle – 1/10
Osaka – 5/7

Naomi Osaka insisted she was unaffected by the saga surrounding Novak Djokovic ahead of the Australian Open.

Osaka opened her title defence at Melbourne Park with a 6-3 6-3 win over Colombian Camila Osorio on Monday.

The lead up to the year's first grand slam was overshadowed by the visa saga around Djokovic, who was deported from Australia on Sunday.

But Osaka, a four-time major winner, said the Serbian world number one's situation had no impact on her.

"I mean, to be completely honest, it didn't really affect me. I saw that it affected the men's draw a little bit so you might have to ask a men's player," she said.

"For me, my goal even before this whole situation is to just focus on myself more, what I need to do to become better.

"I wasn't really, I guess, looking at the news too often."

Osaka was unwilling to be drawn on whether Djokovic, whose visa was cancelled by immigration minister Alex Hawke, should be competing in the tournament.

A two-time champion in Melbourne, Osaka said her focus was on herself – with a second-round clash against Madison Brengle awaiting her.

"I feel like people focus on whatever they want to focus on. It's more like an individual question," Osaka said.

"Me, I'm a tennis player. I'll focus on my matches. You, as I guess an audience, focus on whatever is in the news, no?"

Naomi Osaka moved into the Australian Open second round with a straight-sets victory over Camila Osorio on Monday.

The defending champion was largely untroubled by 20-year-old Colombian Osorio, easing to a 6-3 6-3 victory in 68 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.

Osaka, a four-time grand slam winner, has now won 23 of her past 24 matches in Melbourne.

It means a fourth-round showdown between Osaka and world number one Ash Barty remains on the cards.

Osaka made an imperious start and raced into a 5-0 lead after 16 minutes, on the back of eight winners, plus seven unforced errors from Osorio.

Incredibly, Osorio – who was growing in belief – had chances to get back on serve when Osaka was trying to close out the set, but the two-time champion in Melbourne managed to seal it 6-3.

The energetic Osorio was encouraging herself throughout while matching Osaka, who broke for a 2-1 lead in the second set.

In the end, Osaka proved too good despite a decent first-round test, moving into a meeting with either Dayana Yastremska or Madison Brengle.

 

DATA SLAM: Osaka's first-round record remains strong

Osaka is rarely troubled in the opening round of grand slams. The star is now 19-2 in the first round at majors.

Another challenge awaits. Osaka has never defended any of her major crowns and the last player to defend the women's title at Melbourne Park was Victoria Azarenka (2012 and 2013).

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Osaka – 19/28
Osorio – 5/15

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Osaka – 4/3
Osorio – 1/4

BREAK POINTS WON
Osaka – 4/6
Osorio – 1/5

The tennis season has begun with Rafael Nadal, Ash Barty, Paula Badosa and Thanasi Kokkinakis among the champions at small-scale events in Australia.

Yet there has been one dominant story in the sport and little else has had a look-in in the lead-up to the Australian Open.

Now that Novak Djokovic knows his fate, there is the welcome prospect of eyes turning to matters on the tennis court, rather than the Federal Court.

With the action getting under way in Melbourne on Monday, Stats Perform looks at the main protagonists and what the numbers tell us about another high-stakes grand slam.

Djokovic absence blows open men's draw

As defending champion Djokovic heads for home, it is worth a reminder of how he has dominated this tournament.

Nine of his grand slam titles have come in Melbourne, and he has taken the trophy in each of the last three years, helping him cosy up alongside Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 majors, an all-time record they share. Of the 'Big Three', only Nadal is in the draw this year, with Federer currently on the injured list.

Djokovic has the highest win percentage in the Open Era (since 1969) at the Australian Open, among players with 20 or more wins (91.1 per cent – W82 L8). He was hoping to join Nadal (13 French Opens) and Margaret Court (11 Australian Opens) in the exclusive club of players to reach double figures for singles titles at one slam.

The Serb was also aspiring to become the first man in the Open Era to win four consecutive Australian Opens. It happened once before the tour turned professional, with Roy Emerson winning five in a row from 1963 to 1967. Djokovic has left Melbourne with the title every time that he has made it through to the semi-finals.

 

So who takes the title now?

Only Bjorn Borg (89.2 per cent) has a higher winning percentage in grand slam matches than Nadal (87.7 per cent) and Djokovic (87.5 per cent) in the Open Era, among players with 100 or more wins. So why not Nadal?

The 35-year-old and Djokovic have carved up 12 of the last 14 grand slam titles, Nadal winning four of those (three French Opens, one US Open). He is battling back from a foot injury lay-off and coronavirus, and might need to get the early rounds out of the way without undue stress to stand a chance at the business end.

The two exceptions in the Nadal-Djokovic sequence of slam dominance have come at the US Open, with Dominic Thiem winning in New York in 2020 and Daniil Medvedev triumphing at Djokovic's expense in last year's Flushing Meadows final. Thiem is not in Australia, but world number two Medvedev is, looking to become the third Russian man to win two slams, after Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Marat Safin.

The last man other than Federer, Nadal and Djokovic to secure back-to-back slam singles title was Andre Agassi (US Open 1999 and Australian Open 2000), but that is Medvedev's objective now, and he has the game to pull it off.

Nadal has reached at least the quarter-final stage in 15 of his last 16 grand slam appearances, winning six of those majors (four French Opens and two US Opens), so he may well be a factor.

Who else is in the frame? Alexander Zverev probably, having reached the quarter-finals in Australia in the last two seasons (SF in 2020 and QF in 2021). He won the Olympic Games and ATP Finals titles last year, so a grand slam is an obvious next step. He might want to keep double faults in check though, having served a tour-high 113 in slams last season.

Stefanos Tsitsipas reached the Australian semi-finals in 2019 and 2021, so throw him into the mix too, and Matteo Berrettini might be a threat. The Italian, a runner-up to Djokovic at Wimbledon in July, served more aces than any other player in grand slams last year (311 aces, 16.4 on average per match).

 

Others have more modest ambitions

Andy Murray is back at the Australian Open for the first time since 2019, when he lost in the first round against Roberto Bautista Agut in five sets and was more or less given his last rites as a tennis pro after the match, having indicated he was close to retirement.

The five-time Australian Open runner-up last won a match in this tournament in 2017, when he reached round four. A tough opener against Nikoloz Basilashvili awaits.

Spanish 40-year-old Feliciano Lopez will make his 80th appearance in a grand slam and become the second man in the Open Era with 80 or more appearances at the four majors, after Federer (81).

Do not expect an Australian to be men's champion, by the way. The last time an Australian reached the men's singles final was 2005, when Lleyton Hewitt lost against Safin, and the last home champion was Mark Edmondson in 1976.

Barty backed in stacked women's draw

For the first time since 1997, neither Serena nor Venus Williams will take part in the Australian Open. Yet the women's tour is in rude health, even without those great bastions.

Ash Barty is world number one and a standout pick for many, only enhancing her claims after winning an Adelaide International title in the run-up to this fortnight.

But there is staggering depth on the women's side at present, and Barty will face stiff competition.

Incredibly, the last five grand slam finals have featured 10 different women, and teenager Emma Raducanu's against-all-odds US Open triumph in September shows best of all that new stars are emerging.

Yet since 2000, only three non-seeded players have reached the women's singles final at the Australian Open: Serena Williams in 2007, Justine Henin in 2010 and Garbine Muguruza in 2020. 

Barty could become the first Australian to be women's champion since Chris O'Neil in 1978, and the first to reach the final since Wendy Turnbull lost to Hana Mandlikova in 1980.

The Queenslander is the top seed, and the last time the number one failed to reach at least the fourth round at Melbourne Park was in 1979, when Virginia Ruzici lost her opening match. Barty ended a long wait for an Australian winner of the women's title at Wimbledon last year, so why not closer to home as well?

 

Naomi Osaka is back, so what should we expect?

Truth be told, that's hard to know. Osaka took time out from tennis after the US Open to focus on her mental health and enjoyed hanging out with friends, before deciding she missed tennis enough to go back on tour.

She had three wins at the Melbourne Summer Set tournament recently before withdrawing from a fourth match, saying her body had "got a shock" from the intensity. As defending champion in the season's first major, she has a target on her back and will need to find a way to handle that.

Over the past six seasons, only Osaka has managed to win back-to-back grand slam singles titles among the women, and she has done so twice (US Open 2018 and Australian Open 2019, plus US Open 2020 and Australian Open 2021).

The last player to win back-to-back women's Australian Open singles titles was Victoria Azarenka (2012 and 2013), so it does not happen regularly.

Osaka has an 85 per cent win rate at this tournament: since 2000, only Jennifer Capriati (90 per cent) and Serena Williams (89 per cent) have had a higher win percentage in the main draw.

 

You want challengers to the big two? Try sticking a pin in the draw

The Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup, which goes to the champion, is a trophy that upwards of a dozen women will seriously believe they can win.

Aryna Sabalenka has reached the semi-finals of the last two slams but is mired in some kind of hellish serving groove, having made 74 double faults in her last four matches and lost the last three in a row.

Anett Kontaveit won a tour-high 39 matches on hard courts last year but has only been to one grand slam quarter-final – last year in Australia, losing to Simona Halep.

What about Ons Jabeur, who matched Kontaveit for a tour-high 48 wins across all surfaces last year? The Tunisian is queen of the drop shot, making 147 successful such plays on tour last year, more than any other player, and recently reached the top 10 in the WTA rankings for the first time.

Maria Sakkari reached two slam semi-finals last year, the first of her career, and the form of Barbora Krejcikova and Badosa in the past week in Melbourne marks them out as contenders. Both are recent fast-risers, Krejcikova already with a French Open title to show.

WTA Finals champion Muguruza could be the second Spaniard to twice reach the Melbourne title match, after Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (1994 v Steffi Graf and 1995 v Mary Pierce). Spain has never had an Australian Open women's singles winner: former French Open and Wimbledon champ Muguruza is an authentic contender.

Halep was runner-up to Caroline Wozniacki in 2018, a semi-finalist in 2020 and quarter-finalist last year, and a Melbourne Summer Set title was a handy warm-up for the Romanian. Consider her, too.

Monica Seles, in 1991, was the last player to triumph on her debut in the main draw, but she was already a grand slam winner (1990 French Open). Given the strength of the line-up, the prospect of a bolter coming through this field is unlikely, even if the example of Raducanu tells us anything is possible.

Novak Djokovic has been drawn against Miomir Kecmanovic in the opening round of the Australian Open as the defending champion awaits to hear if he can stay in the country.

World number one Djokovic was last week given a medical exemption to enter Australia, despite not being vaccinated, only for border officials to block it upon his arrival.

The 20-time grand slam winner was detained for four days while waiting to appeal the case on Monday, which went in his favour at Melbourne Circuit Court.

Djokovic has since started training ahead of the Australian Open, which begins next Monday, though immigration minister Alex Hawke may yet cancel his visa for a second time. 

A decision on whether Djokovic can compete in the first grand slam of the year, which he has won a record nine times, could be made on Thursday.

Should he be given the all clear to take part, Djokovic will face compatriot Kecmanovic in the first round at Melbourne Park.

Thursday's draw, which was delayed by one hour and 15 minutes for unspecified reasons, also saw fellow 20-time grand slam winner Rafael Nadal paired with Marcos Giron.

Nadal is in the same half of the draw as Djokovic, meaning the pair could meet in the semi-finals, while third seed Alexander Zverev is also in the top half.

Second seed and 2021 finalist Daniil Medvedev is in the bottom half along with Stefanos Tsitsipas and will take on Henri Laaksonen first up.

In the women's draw, Australia's world number one Ash Barty will begin her quest for glory on home soil against a qualifier.

The top seed is on a collision course with defending champion Naomi Osaka, who goes face-to-face with Camila Osorio in round one on her return from a four-month break.

Reigning US Open winner Emma Raducanu is up against Sloane Stephens, who won the New York major in 2017, while Storm Sanders awaits second seed Aryna Sabalenka.

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