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Top 5 Australian Open women’s first-rounders: 2020 winner Kenin opens against Keys; US Open champions Raducanu and Stephens clash
Meanwhile, Paula Badosa takes on Australian No. 2 Ajla Tomljanovic in her first Grand Slam as a Top 10 player.
Published Jan 14, 2022
The draws for the Australian Open were released on Thursday, and from the 2020 winner taking on a former world No. 7, and an all-US Open champion clash, the women's first round is full of exciting match-ups. Here are five of the best:
 Sofia Kenin (USA) vs Madison Keys (USA) [Keys leads 2-1]
Both American stars have seen better days—Kenin is a former No. 4 currently ranked No. 12, while Keys is a former No. 7 currently at No. 87. And unfortunately for both of them, only one is going to make it past the first round in Melbourne, where they’ve both enjoyed so much success—Kenin won her first Grand Slam title here in 2020, while Keys reached her first Grand Slam semifinal here in 2015.
A week ago, it would have been hard to lean towards favoring either player in this match-up, with Kenin having reached just one quarterfinal in her last nine tournaments, and Keys reaching one in her last 20 tournaments. But Keys has found her groove just in the nick of time for this year’s Australian Open, reaching her first final in two years in Adelaide this week, picking up the 41st and 42nd Top 20 wins of her career against Elina Svitolina and Coco Gauff along the way.
Keys has also beaten Kenin in straight sets the last two times they’ve played.
 Emma Raducanu (GBR) vs Sloane Stephens (USA) [First Meeting]
With 14 Grand Slam champions in the women’s draw, an early match-up between two of them wasn't inconceivable. And we got it, between the 2021 and 2017 US Open champions.
Raducanu hasn’t had the best run since shocking the world at Flushing Meadows, going 2-4 since—but in her short career she’s played her best tennis at the majors, reaching the fourth round of Wimbledon in her Grand Slam debut, and then going on to win the US Open. Now 10-1 in her career at majors, can the British teenager bring that form back in her debut in Melbourne?
As for Stephens, the string of tough draws at the majors continues. Since falling out of the seeds at Slams in 2021 she’s had to play, among others, Karolina Pliskova in the second round of Roland Garros, Petra Kvitova in the first round of Wimbledon and a double whammy in the first two rounds of the US Open—Keys in the first round and Gauff second round.
She did beat them all, though.
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 Paula Badosa (ESP) vs Ajla Tomljanovic (AUS) [Badosa leads 1-0]
The WTA’s newest Top 10 player, Badosa, will have her work cut out for her as she takes on Tomljanovic, who’s had four career Top 10 wins, most recently against Garbine Muguruza at Indian Wells a few months ago. Last year, she very nearly took out then-No. 2 Simona Halep at the Australian Open, leading 5-2 in the third set of their second-rounder before the Romanian snuck out a 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 victory.
Badosa and Tomljanovic played each other for the first time just a few days ago in the early rounds in Sydney, and though Badosa won that one in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4, Tomljanovic was actually up a break a few times in the second set.
 Angelique Kerber (GER) vs Kaia Kanepi (EST) [Tied 2-2]
Kerber was one of the hottest players on tour during the second half of 2021, winning 20 of 26 matches from midway through the grass-court season through to the end of the year. It propelled her from No. 28 all the way back up to No. 9 at one point; she finished the year ranked No. 16. The 2016 Australian Open champion has one of the most unpredictable first-round opponents out there in Kanepi, who’s beaten Top 20 players at Grand Slams 11 times before—including a win over Kerber at Wimbledon in 2013, and a second-round stunner over defending champion Kenin in Melbourne last year.
A former No. 15 player, the hard-hitting Kanepi is always a threat to top players no matter where she’s ranked. Kerber has won their last two meetings in straight sets, but the two haven’t played each other in eight years.
 Petra Kvitova (CZE) vs Sorana Cirstea (ROU) [Kvitova leads 5-3]
At last year’s Australian Open, Cirstea pulled off her first Top 10 win in years—and the 15th of her career—with a 6-4, 1-6, 6-1 victory over a No. 9-ranked Kvitova in the second round. This time they’ll meet in the first round, and not only will Kvitova be out for revenge, she’ll also be trying to get her 2022 back on track. She's lost two of her three matches in the lead-up season, and her only win is a 3-6, 7-6 (4), 7-5 victory over No. 66 Arantxa Rus in Sydney, where she saved two match point.
Kvitova, the 2019 Australian Open runner-up, still leads their head-to-head, though their match in Melbourne 11 months ago was their only meeting in the last five years.