The first slam of the year is upon us in the women’s game but it will be without the tournament’s most recent champion. Serena Williams is still not 100% after the birth of her daughter late last year. She made the decision not to compete soon after an exhibition match against Jelena Ostapenko. Once again, it means the tournament is wide open and could provide a surprise winner like we saw at the US Open with Sloane Stephens.
Full draw here: Australian Open women’s draw
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The pressure remains for Simona Halep to justify her spot as No.1 in the world with a slam title, something that has eluded her to date. It is worse in Australia with her best runs coming in 2014 and 2015, where she was a quarter finalist. A Shenzhen title to begin the year sees the Romanian coming into the tournament confident but she may have a tough time when it comes to a potential third round with Petra Kvitova. She is 4-1 against the Czech but their most recent meeting saw her taken apart in Wuhan 2016, winning just three games in the semi final there. There are a few other in-form players early on who may fancy their chances against a Halep that often seems vulnerable. Camila Giorgi and Ashleigh Barty both went far in Sydney last week, losing to Angelique Kerber in the semi final and final respectively.
Number 1 at the last slam of 2017, Karolina Pliskova failed to live up to expectations and lost in the quarter finals of the US Open. She is now down to No.6 but has a fair chance of the title and lesser pressure may actually do her good. The Czech will look to improve on her career best quarter final in Melbourne but may need to beat a number of compatriots to do so. Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova are both seeded opponents she can play before the quarter finals but it is Johanna Konta who remains most likely to stop her making it that far. However, the 9th seed will need to show better form than she has recently – she ended the season with 5 losses in a row and also had a retirement to begin the year in her Brisbane quarter final.
After winning her second slam title at Wimbledon last year, it felt like Garbine Muguruza was ready to be deemed a continual slam contender rather than someone dangerous who could go far in any given fortnight. The inconsistencies that plagued her following the 2016 French Open did not seem to do so as much following this victory but there are concerns for her coming into this tournament. She retired in her first match of the year and Brisbane before giving a walkover in Sydney a week later, admitting she is still not 100%. “I’m trying to every day improve, try to recover. I know I’m playing on Tuesday, so we’ll see.” she said. Wildcard Jessica Ponchet may not be the one to defeat her but it gives hope to a resurgent Angelique Kerber. The former champion and No.1 was impressive in winning Sydney with wins over Venus Williams and Ashleigh Barty the pick of the bunch. With her 2 most recent losses coming to players ranked 122 and 100, hopes aren’t high for Agnieszka Radwanska who has not looked right for a long time.
Her form is nothing compared to Kristina Mladenovic, who is the midst of a lengthy losing streak. A match against a young Australian wildcard looked like the perfect match for her to finally end that in Sydney but she went down a set to Ellen Perez before finally calling it a day in the middle of the second set. Between her fitness and dreadful form, it’s hard to be confident in suggestion that run will end against Ana Bogdan but she is probably the slight favourite to win that one currently. Caroline Garcia ended 2017 in great form with back to back titles helping her get a place at the season ending WTA Finals and more importantly landing her a top 8 seeding coming into this tournament. Unfortunately, a back injury caused her to retire in her one and only match this season and doubts on her fitness still remain. Mirjana Lucic Baroni, defending a semi final, has similar doubts while Madison Keys looks to build and learn from her US Open loss. Her position in the draw is potentially a nice spot given the issues facing her fellow seeds.
Venus Williams will be flying the flag for her family once more, having performed amazingly in 2017 with slam runs that thrilled in Melbourne, Wimbledon and New York. Hopes still remain high for the 5th seed but she has one of the toughest matches to begin her tournament. Belinda Bencic may be ranked outside the top 70 at this point but there’s indications that she is regaining the form that saw her become a top 10 player as a teenager. The Swiss was on a lengthy winning streak in ITF play and took that into the Hopman Cup, winning the event with Roger Federer. Now on a 14 match winning streak, Julia Goerges may finally be living up to the potential she showed years back. She added to her Moscow and Zhuhai titles with a win in Auckland, beating Caroline Wozniacki in the final.
Sloane Stephens shocked plenty by winning the US Open last year but she has failed to build upon that victory, losing 5 straight matches since then. The title still provides her with a solid top 16 seeding so her bad form will not lead to a rankings slump for a while yet. However, it would not be a surprise for that losing streak to be extended with Shuai Zhang a very tough unseeded opponent at 35 in the rankings. Like her fellow slamless contenders in the top 5, question marks remain over Elina Svitolina and her ability to do it on the biggest stage. She has just 2 slam quarter finals to her name despite a career high ranking of 3. A winner at Brisbane to start the year, she really needs to start delivering at slams. On paper, her draw looks friendly enough that she could finally make her first semi final.
Coco Vandeweghe‘s big hitting game saw her make two slam semi finals last year and with no clear contenders for the title, it would be no surprise again if the American were to repeat her run of 2017. Her run to the final 4 looks slightly easier this time round with an inconsistent Jelena Ostapenko the pick of the bunch when it comes to who she could play before the quarter finals. Anett Kontaveit and former finalist Dominika Cibulkova are also seeded here.
Caroline Wozniacki would be the biggest hurdle for CoCo although the American handily put her away at Wimbledon in the lone meeting of 2017. Wozniacki comes into the tournament seeded second and it looks a draw that is perfect for her to go far in and take advantage of her no. 2 seeding. Scorching power hitters have always been her kryptonite, especially at slams but the seeds in her section do not look the type to trouble her. Kiki Bertens, Magdalena Rybarikova and the inconsistent Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova are those that could stand between her and a quarter final spot. Wozniacki does begin her tournament with an interesting matchup against Mihaela Burzanescu. The Romanian was a junior No. 3 and was in the same era as the Dane and Agnieszka Radwanska amongst others. She has fought back from a host of injuries to become a top 50 player and it will be interesting to see how she performs on the big stage.
SF: Muguruza def. Halep
SF: Goerges def. Wozniacki
F: Muguruza def. Goerges