By David Gertler
The final qualifying rounds for the Slams are some of the biggest days of the year for professional tennis players.
With the money and points at stake for a first-round appearance, the margin for error is low and the intensity is high.
This year’s women’s qualifying featured many fascinating battles between players young and old, between power players and counterpunchers, and from all over the world.
Now that the 2022 women’s qualifying draw has wrapped up, the focus turns to the main draw. Which qualifiers are the most dangerous? Who should tennis fans keep an eye on?
Let’s dive into the three women’s Australian Open qualifiers to have your eye on.
World No. 111 Qinwen Zheng was a player who was probably disappointed to not make the main draw cutoff. However, she didn’t let this deter her and had both a very strong qualifying campaign and overall start to the season.
Zheng started off the year qualifying and making the semifinals of the Melbourne Summer Set 1 tournament. In order to make the semifinals, Zheng had to beat a tough group of opponents that included Bernarda Pera, Mai Hontama, Vera Zvonareva, and Ana Konjuh.
When Australian Open qualifying started, however, it seemed like it would be a short stay for Zheng. Down 1-6, 6-6 (1-5) to CoCo Vandeweghe, Zheng was on her last legs.
However, in an incredible display of resilience, Zheng fought back and won the match 1-6, 7-6(5), 6-1. She then followed that up with a straight sets win over Seone Mendez, and another victory over Mai Hontama.
The 6-3, 6-7(3), 6-3 win over Hontama was the second in two weeks, but neither victory was easy. Hontama does a great job keeping the ball consistently deep in the court, which can defuse the power of many players.
Zheng, with her low-margin, high-power game struggled to pull away from Hontama, but eventually she was able to hit her way to the main draw. She was also very clutch, saving 11 of 13 break points.
Zheng, who was ranked at World No. 324 after the 2020 season, will be dangerous in her first round match with Aliaksandra Sasnovich.
Sasnovich has been very solid, coming within a set from the Melbourne Summer Set 1 crown before falling to Amanda Anisimova. However, you can’t teach the raw power that Zheng possesses, and if she’s able to keep the unforced error count relatively low, she has a real shot in that match.
It was looking like the party might be over quickly for Hailey Baptiste, as the World No. 168 found herself locked 4-4 in the final set tiebreak of her opening match in qualifying against Samantha Murray Sharan.
Baptiste looked off, appearing fatigued as she crawled towards the finish line.
But, somehow, Baptiste came through that match 7-6(8) in the third set and didn’t look back.
The draw didn’t get easier from there, with Baptiste then facing World No. 118 Nina Stojanović. But Baptiste didn’t need a third-set tiebreak in this match, comfortably taking the victory 6-3, 6-4 without dropping serve.
Baptiste’s final hurdle to get into the main draw was a big one: Yue Yuan. Dating back to last season, Yuan had won 17 of her last 18 matches. Baptiste would have to reproduce the level she showed in the Stojanović match.
Baptiste was able to do so and, in a match lasting over two and a half hours, pulled off the stunner. The American beat Yuan 6-7(4), 7-6(5), 6-3. Baptiste hit 45 winners compared to 23 for Yuan. Baptiste wasn’t afraid of the moment and tried to make something happen with her groundstrokes.
And that was a theme throughout qualifying, as Baptiste had a higher winner count than her opponents throughout her qualifying campaign. Now, there were plenty of unforced errors, but Baptiste was fearless. She served big, attacked the net when possible, and wasn’t afraid of trying to crack a winner when she saw an opening.
While Baptiste might have lost in the Melbourne Summer Set 2 qualifying, she completely redeemed herself here.
And with a matchup against the erratic Caroline Garcia coming up, this is a huge chance for the American to get her second-ever singles victory at a major (the first being at the French Open last season).
The road to this point hasn’t been easy for World No. 158 Viktoria Kužmová. From Auckland towards the start of the 2019 season until the $25k in Jablonec nad Nisou at the end of 2021, Kužmová hadn’t made a single semifinal at any level.
During that time, there were only two occasions when she even won three consecutive matches during the same tournament, with the early exits piling up. Her once-powerful baseline game and serve consistently faltered.
But things started to click once again for Kužmová late last season at Billie Jean King Cup, where she beat Carla Suarez Navarro and Shelby Rogers. From there, Kužmová made the quarterfinals of the $100k event in Dubai before playing the aforementioned tournament in Jablonec nad Nisou.
After qualifying for the Melbourne Summer Set 1 tournament, which included a good win over Magdalena Frech, but falling in two tiebreaks to Veronika Kudermetova in the first round, Kužmová set her sights on Australian Open qualifying.
Despite a tough qualifying draw, Kužmová qualified without a losing set. She beat Anastasia Gasanova, Jana Fett, and Aliona Bolsova to reach the main draw. During those matches,
Kužmová won over 70% of her first-serve points in all of those matches. But it wasn’t just her first serve leading her to victory, but also her return game. In her three qualifying matches combined, Kužmová broke serve 16 times.
Kužmová’s baseline game was back in business after struggling so long and a favorable first-round matchup against Xiyu Wang. Wang has a very powerful lefty serve and baseline game, but she’s also very erratic in all aspects of her game and will gift a lot of free points to Kužmová.
This feels like a real chance for Viktória Kužmová to win her first singles match at a major since the 2019 French Open.
So what do you think of the three players I chose as this year’s Australian Open women’s qualifying players to watch? Agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments or @tennisblogger1 on Twitter!