Romania’s Simona Halep plays a shot against Poland’s Iga Swiatek in the fourth round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, France, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
- All the women in the singles main draw at next week’s Australian Open are in action this week.
- Two WTA events begin Sunday; a third, for players in hard quarantine, starts Wednesday
- Naomi Osaka, who hasn’t played since the 2020 US Open, is the strong favorite in the Gippsland Trophy tournament; Is she in form?
The smiles on faces of players practicing around Melbourne Park Saturday were ubiquitous, as just about all were finally through the 14-day quarantine required upon their arrival in Australia.
The WTA players who came in on flights where a positive COVID-19 test was discovered on arrival were not allowed out five hours a day to train. They all were broken away to a third WTA Tour event that begins Wednesday.
So the players in the Gippsland Trophy and the Yarra Valley Open all could practice. The playing field is level that way.
Gippsland Trophy Odds
| Naomi Osaka (JPN)||+250|
| Simona Halep (ROU)||+350|
| Aryna Sabalenka (BLR)||+350|
| Elise Mertens (BEL)||+1100|
| Iga Swiatek (POL)||+1100|
| Elena Svitolina (UKR)||+2000|
| Karolina Muchova (CZE)||+3000|
| Cori Gauff (USA)||+3300|
| Ekaterina Alexandrova (RUS)||+5000|
| Caroline Garcia (FRA)||+5000|
| Johanna Konta (GBR)||+6600|
| Jelena Ostapenko (LAT)||+6600|
| Qiang Wang (CHN)||+6600|
|Daria Kasatkina (RUS)||+7500|
Odds taken January 30 at DraftKings
Top Players Split Between Two Events
The top players were split between the two WTA 500 events, even if both are being played concurrently and on the same Melbourne Park courts.
The Yarra Valley Open ended up with a lot of big servers, including Serena and Venus Williams
The Gippsland Open arguably has a deeper field. So it’s surprising that only three players have odds better than +1000.
Osaka Has Been Idle since September
Naomi Osaka, who won the Australian Open in 2019, is the favorite. But what has been missing in her schedule since she won the 2020 US Open last September has been…tennis.
She hasn’t played a tournament since then.
On Friday, Osaka went out with Serena Williams and played an exhibition match in Adelaide, where the very best players enjoyed better conditions and fancier digs.
Serena won the match, 6-,2, 2-6, 10-7 in the match tiebreak that was played in lieu of a third set.
Osaka did not look particularly ready to take on the season. Her off-season has been one where once again she signed several more endorsement deals.
And she also got involved in far more activities off the court than on court.
That ring rust showed most obviously in her serve against Williams.
She will need this tune-up tournament to find form before the first Grand Slam of the season next week.
Halep Looked Sharp vs Barty in Adelaide
Meanwhile, Simona Halep looked sharp in her exhibition match against Ashleigh Barty, also Friday in Adelaide.
The circumstances were a little different. Halep brought a winning record into the match against the world No. 1. And Barty has not played a tournament in nearly a year. Once the pandemic hit, even after the restart, the Aussie opted to say home.
Simo beats Ash
Simona Halep downs World No.1 Ashleigh Barty 3-6 6-1 10-8 to end the night in Adelaide
(🎥 @TennisChannel) pic.twitter.com/mYj1pNKyGl
— We Are Tennis (@WeAreTennis) January 29, 2021
The other Gippsland Trophy favorite is Aryna Sabalenka, who had the best finish to the season of anyone on the WTA Tour.
But Barty and Osaka, as well as the injured Bianca Andreescu – and Serena Williams – were not around at the end of 2020.
The landscape looks rather different now.
Matches to Watch For
Osaka, after a first-round bye, could meet No. 14 seed Coco Gauff in the third round. Depending on their respective early form, it could be an upset to watch out for.
Halep could meet French Open champion Iga Swiatek in the quarterfinals. And she has Sabalenka in her half. The Romanian definitely has a tougher road than Osaka does.
Swiatek has gone down a slippery slope and has debuted 2021 with a new brand of racquet.
These changes (typically made for money) have cost some players dearly for significant periods of time in the past.
Potential First-round Upsets
Aussie Destanee Aiava (-152) is the favorite over young Frenchwoman Chloe Paquet (+123). But Paquet earned her way to Australia by qualifying in Dubai, while Aiava stayed home because she was given a wild card. Paquet has more match play under her belt in 2021.
Andrea Petkovic (-139) is favored over Italy’s Martina Trevisan (+114). But while Trevisan charmed the tennis world with a run from the qualifying to the quarterfinals in Paris, Petkovic played just one match in 2020.
Gippsland Trophy Tournament pick: Halep (+350)
Stephanie gets the straight dope from the tennis insiders. On court, she has represented her country internationally. A BA in journalism led to years on the MLB beat and a decade covering tennis globally. She’s written for Postmedia, the Guardian, the New York Times and also publishes OpenCourt.ca.