The competitive theme of the WTA over the last few years has been parity and recent history at the Australian Open has followed suit. There've been seven different winners over the past nine years at Melbourne Park. On top of that, Serena Williams (hamstring), Jennifer Brady (foot), Bianca Andreescu (personal), Karolina Muchova (abdomen) and Karolina Pliskova (hand) will all be missing the year's first major but each would have been considered contenders to take home the title if they were able to play.
As for the players in attendance, it's hard to overlook the top eighth of the draw that features No. 1 seed Ashleigh Barty, No. 13 Naomi Osaka, No. 22 Belinda Bencic and No. 30 Camila Giorgi. Only one of those four players will reach the quarterfinals, which almost seems cruel since that foursome could have otherwise been mistaken for a good guess at this year's semifinalists had the draw broken differently. Despite this, FanDuel Sportsbook still lists Barty (+280) and Osaka (+700) as the top-two title favorites.
Elsewhere, teenagers on the rise like Emma Raducanu, Leylah Fernandez and Coco Gauff weren't given any favors with how their draw turned out either, since it's hard to project any of those three advancing beyond Round 4. In Raducanu's case, she'll have a tough time even escaping the first round since she'll be pitted against Sloane Stephens. Fernandez would likely have to beat Caroline Garcia, No. 16 Angelique Kerber and No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka if she were to make it beyond Round 4 and into the quarterfinals. Fellow Americans No. 11 Sofia Kenin or Madison Keys would face Gauff in Round 3, and even though Gauff continues to progress in leaps and bounds, either Kenin or Keys will be a very tough test so early on in the tournament.
With that in mind, here's a tiered list of contenders:
Tier 1: Top contenders
Barty, Osaka or Bencic
Despite their horrific luck of the draw, whoever escapes this section will clearly be playing very good tennis, so good that they'll likely be considered the favorite to win the tournament from thereon after. Osaka gets the slight edge over Barty and Bencic since her best effort on hard courts is unrivaled, but Barty and Bencic both have enough skill and know-how to represent one of the toughest sections of a major draw in recent history.
Tier 2: Other contenders
The No. 7 seed has one of the clearest paths to the quarterfinals of anyone, as Daria Kasatkina (0-0 H2H) and Petra Kvitova (0-0 H2H) or Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (0-0 H2H) don't pose significant threats compared to what some of the other top seeds in the draw are facing on their own paths to the quarterfinals. And even her potential quarterfinal match against Sabalenka (0-1 H2H) is looking favorable since Sabalenka has struggled mightily to start the 2022 season. If you're looking at path of least resistance alone to guide your picks, Swiatek is probably your champion. That sentiment is backed by FanDuel Sportsbook as well, since it lists Swiatek with the third best odds of winning the event at +1200 behind Barty (+280) and Osaka (+700).
The 30-year-old and two-time major champion finds herself in the bottom half of the draw, which means her path to the finals would go through the likes of Raducanu (0-0 H2H), Garbine Muguruza (3-4 H2H), Anett Kontaveit (3-1 H2H) and Sabalenka (3-2 H2H). All things considered, this might be one of the easier paths to a major final that she's ever had if she can get by Muguruza in Round 4. Of course, she was held back last season by a torn calf but already proved her health last week by winning five matches en route to claiming the Melbourne 1 trophy.
The two-time major champion checks in with FanDuel Sportsbook's fourth-best odds of winning the title at +1400, which is tied with Halep. That checks out with her draw too, since she should be able to cruise before facing Halep in Round 4. She owns a 4-3 H2H advantage over Halep, so it's not exactly like she'll be running into a buzz saw, and her potential quarterfinal and semifinal matches may end up being against lesser opponents than what Halep will pose.
Tier 3: Plausible, but unlikely
The 27-year-old is considered one of the best players to never reach a final at a major event, as she has just two semifinal and six quarterfinal appearances to her name while still boasting a whopping 16 WTA titles at non-major events. Saying "she's due" has been in vogue for maybe three years now, so she's super due, if you will. Her path to the finals would likely include Victoria Azarenka (0-4 H2H), Barbora Krejcikova (0-1 H2H), Paula Badosa (1-0 H2H) and whoever escapes from the Barty, Bencic and Osaka trio, so while she's one of the better players in the tournament, her history at majors and tough path to the finals make it hard to believe she'll finally break through here in Melbourne this year.
The No. 5 seed played her best tennis in 2021 and reached the semifinals of both the French Open and US Open. That in and of itself makes her a contender for this year's Australian Open, but she finds herself in the same quarterfinal as the Barty, Bencic and Osaka trio, and even this elevated play she's had recently won't likely be enough to overcome whoever in that trio advances.
With parity being the theme, nobody should be surprised if someone in the group listed above breaks through, but it's hard to imagine any of these players stringing together seven consecutive wins.
Quarterfinal predictions: Barty d. Sakkari, Svitolina d. Kenin, Halep d. Collins, Swiatek d. Sabalenka
Semifinals: Barty d. Svitolina, Swiatek d. Halep
Final: Swiatek d. Barty