Analysis: Iga Swiatek's Loss Is The Latest Australian Open Upset. So Get To Know Some New Faces

Arthur Cazaux of France celebrates after defeating Holger Rune of Denmark in their second round match at the Australian Open tennis championships at Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake)
Arthur Cazaux of France celebrates after defeating Holger Rune of Denmark in their second round match at the Australian Open tennis championships at Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake)
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Iga Swiatek’s No. 1 ranking, four Grand Slam titles and 18-match winning streak were no help against big-hitting teen Linda Noskova at the Australian Open.

After crouching at the baseline and covering her face when she closed out the 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 third-round victory over Swiatek on Saturday, the 50th-ranked Noskova said: “I didn't really think that it would end up like this.”

Who possibly could have? Noskova, after all, is making her debut at the year's first Grand Slam tournament and had only two match wins at all majors until a week ago. Plus, it had been a quarter of a century since any teenager eliminated the WTA's No. 1 player at Melbourne Park (Amelie Mauresmo defeated Lindsay Davenport in 1999).

Then again, pedigree and past performance seem to mean little to nothing so far this year, setting up a Week 2 that features a bunch of new players and storylines.

“For sure,” Swiatek said, “I wish I could have played a little bit better.”

That's been a familiar refrain. Even before Swiatek's exit, only 12 seeded women reached the third round, equaling last year's French Open for the fewest at a Slam since the 32-seed format was introduced in 2001.

“We have, like, a deep pool of players who can beat anybody on the given day. I think that’s what makes them more dangerous,” said Victoria Azarenka, a two-time champion in Melbourne. “The consistency sometimes can be on and off. You don’t know which player you’re going to get on which day.”

The first three rounds were calmer for the men; Novak Djokovic led nine of the top 10 seeds safely through. (No. 8 Holger Rune lost to Arthur Cazaux, a 21-year-old from France who is the first non-Australian men's wild-card entry in 30 years to get to the fourth round.)

Of the eight women left in the top half of the bracket, only Azarenka has been to a major final, and no one is currently in the Top 10. No. 12 Zheng Qinwen, a 21-year-old from China, is the highest seed there.

Aside from that pair, along with Noskova and three-time major semifinalist Elina Svitolina, others who can make the final are Jasmine Paolini, Dayana Yastremska, Anna Kalinskaya and Oceane Dodin — a quartet who were 23-63 in Grand Slam action before this fortnight.

So what does it all mean? It's hard to make sweeping conclusions based on early-for-them departures by Swiatek, No. 3 Elena Rybakina, No. 5 Jessica Pegula, No. 6 Ons Jabeur and No. 7 Marketa Vondrousova.

But it does offer a contrast to the sort of day-in, day-out excellence displayed by Serena Williams, for one, as she compiled 23 Slam singles titles and, even as the end of her career approached, run after run to the finals at the sport's biggest tournaments.

And, in this post-Serena world, it offers fans a chance to learn unfamiliar names and appreciate unfamiliar games. They won't all be future stars — and, likely, none will be — but it's worth watching to find out.

Noskova is part of the seemingly never-ending reservoir of talent from the Czech Republic. Folks who follow tennis closely know she was the 2021 French Open junior champion. They might also remember she was half of the doubles team that beat Williams and her sister, Venus, in doubles at the 2022 U.S. Open, Serena's last event.

But this? Swiatek was listed by FanDuel Sportsbook as a minus-1,700 favorite, then took the first set, but then couldn't handle Noskova's confidence and booming strokes down the stretch.

Noskova is in a wave of not-yet-20-somethings making noise in Melbourne. Three 16-year-olds won first-round matches — the most at the Australian Open since 2005 — and one, Mirra Andreeva, was scheduled to play in the fourth round Sunday on the bottom half of the bracket.

That's the portion that includes Coco Gauff, the 19-year-old American who won the U.S. Open in September, and No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka, the defending champ in Melbourne. They both reached the quarterfinals without dropping a set, so not every result has been a stunner.

Still, as Sabalenka cautioned: “Anything can happen.” Which is not necessarily a bad thing for those watching.

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AP Sports Writer John Pye in Melbourne, Australia, contributed to this report.

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Howard Fendrich has been the AP’s tennis writer since 2002. Find his stories here: https://apnews.com/author/howard-fendrich. AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis