McEnroe picks favourite to win women’s Australian Open singles title

Novak Djokovic jokes about his age at the Australian Open

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Tennis legend John McEnroe has chosen his favourite for the Australian Open women’s singles title. The elimination of some tournament favourites before the start of the second week has thrown the draw wide open. The elimination of top seed and favourite Iga Swiatek and second seed Ons Jabeur were huge surprises in the draw, as well as the exit of teenage sensation Coco Gauff.

Still in with a chance are the likes of Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina, who ousted Swiatek in straight sets and Olympic champion Belenida Bencic who takes on the hard-hitting Aryna Sabalenka in the last 16 tonight. Victoria Azarenka, the only former winner of the tournament remaining in the draw, is aiming for a third title at Melbourne Park.

But she faces a stiff challenge from the woman McEnroe believes is the one to beat this fortnight, America’s Jessica Pegula. The 28-year-old has yet to drop a set and looked supremely poised during her 7-5, 6-2, victory over 2021 French Open winner Barbora Krejčíková in round four.

“There’s people out there that could do it. But I think Jessica, if you look at the overall picture right now, is the one to beat,” the seven-time major winner told Eurosport. “I think she [Pegula] is mentally rock solid, she’s got herself in a place where it’s intimidating how strong mentally she is.

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“Her game, it doesn’t feel like it’s going to break down where some of the other players [do].” He added: “The people that can stop her… Rybakina for example, has got the firepower. She’s hard to beat, she showed that when she beat Iga. So that would be a formidable challenge [for Pegula].”

Pegula will be appearing in the quarterfinals for the third year in a row at Melbourne Park – and for the fifth time overall at a major, all in the past 24 months – but has yet to win one. “I have a great shot here. … All around, throughout the whole tournament, I’ve been playing the best I have,” she said.

Azerenka came through a tricky last 16 encounter with Zhu Lin book her place in the quarter-final, and is relishing the chance to face Pegula once again. “Me and Jess, we’ve practiced together, we’ve played so many great matches together so I’m going to enjoy that one,” said Azarenka, who has won two of her four encounters with the third seed. “If I do lose I’d rather lose to Jess but I’m going to give her hell for sure!”

Eurosport expert Laura Robson feels one hindrance the 33-year-old will have against Pegula is that her win over Zhu finished seven hours after the American’s fourth round match on Sunday. “It gives her [Pegula] a big advantage for sure but it might give Vika [Azarenka] that feeling that she’s got, even though she’s won here twice, she’s got nothing to lose against Jessica Pegula.

“As Pegula is the form player, she hits the ball so hard and clean and it would help Vika that she’s got to practice with Pegula. So Vika with the experience that she has and then also having practiced with Jessy, now with the time she might be like ‘oh I’m in the quarters, Jessy is too good, I’m going to relax’ because she needs to go for her shots a bit more against Jess.

“When you watch that, she wins this match because of experience, I felt she brought tennis back to where it was 10, 15 years ago but that’s tennis and she enjoys the fight of rallying and not hitting so hard but she’ll have to go up a level.”

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