With the focus of the entire world firm on the fate of Novak Djokovic legal limbo of deportation, the interest on the build-up to the women's singles draw was subconsciously swept under the rug given the absence of an outright favourite for the title, along with star Serena Wiliams, who continues to struggle with injuries.
However, there is a list of former champions and in-form WTA regulars who have laid claim for the Grand Slam and indiatvnews.com picks the five best bets for the customary opening Major of the season.
1. Ashleigh Barty
Ashleigh Barty is among the very few names in the singles draw, who lay a strong claim for a Major success at home. The 25-year-old Aussie has been very cautious of her mental and physical fitness in the COVID-19 era, taking hiatus from the game.
This had sceptics question her title claims given she came to Melbourne after a break of over three months, which came after her third-round exit at the US Open.
However, ending 2021 with five titles meant she began the new year at the top of WTA rankings and capped it off with the Adelaide International title last week.
Despite being a tune-up event for the 'Happy Slam', Barty saw off some quality opponents in Iga Swiatek, Sofia Kenin and Coco Gauff on her way to winning the WTA event. The splendid display quickly placed the 2022 Australian Open top seed as the better's favourite in front of the home crowd of Melbourne Park.
2. Garbine Muguruza
More than four years since her last Grand Slam success, Garbine Muguruza won't catch your imagination as a title favourite given her best effort in Majors last season was a fourth-round exit at this very venue and at the Flushing Meadows respectively. However, a closer look at her recent performances on the WTA Tour explains why she is World No. 3 and among the favourites for the title.
The 2020 Australian Open finalist, also her last appearance in a Major to this day, ended the year with the coveted WTA Finals trophy in Mexico back in November to lay the foundation for her third Grand Slam success. To her own admission, the 28-year-old Spanish star played her best tennis in the latter half of 2021, which saw her adjust as per the requirement of the match condition -- and not heavily relying on her high-risk aggressive tennis -- has taken her opponents by surprise and showed that she has matured as a tennis player over the year.
3. Naomi Osaka
It was a year to forget for Naomi Osaka, who brought the world's attention to mental health hazards over the pressure that she faced while attending a media press conference at the French Open. The four-time Grand Slam winner ultimately walked out of the tournament and skipped the Wimbledon as well while prioritising her health. On her return, Osaka largely looked off-colour for the rest of the season, including a third-round exit at the US Open.
However, one can only write off the 24-year-old Japanese, seeded 14th at their own peril because it's at the hardcourt where she has often played her best game. Her four Grand Slam titles -- two each at Aus and US Open -- pay testimony to that.
4. Paula Badosa
Her best showing at a Grand Slam is a fourth-round finish at the 2021 French Open, which may pass her off as a nobody in the circuit. However, regular followers of the WTA Tour do hold unheralded Paula Badosa in high regard as the 24-year-old made an impact with her form. Heading into the Australian Open, World No. 6 Badosa, who entered the top 100 late in 2020 for the first time, outlasted higher-ranked Barbora Krejcikova in a three-set final at the Sydney Tennis Classic less than 48 hours ago.
This performance came at the back of an exciting 2021 season, where she defeated the likes of Barty, Olympic gold medallist Belinda Bencic, Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka among others while claiming her maiden WTA title in Belgrade, followed by prestigious Indian Wells Trophy and a semi-final loss to compatriot Muguruza at WTA Finals.
5. Annett Kontaveit
Yes, history first qualifier to win Grand Slam in US Open last September doesn't make our top five list given her disappointing display leading to the tournament. We instead opted for Estonia's sixth seed Annett Kontaveit, who will look to build up on her marvellous from late in the season that saw her reach the quarter-finals of the Indian Wells Masters while claiming two back-to-back titles in Russia and Romania while defeating local favourite and two-time Grand Slam winner Simona Halep in the later.
Kontaveit ended the season with a runner-up showing at the WTA Finals, where she lost a gruelling three-set battle to eventual champion Muguruza. Her semi-final appearance at the Adelaide International recently was also an indication that she has lost little form heading into the Grand Slam.