The first slam of the year begins on Monday with Serena Williams the favourite to win the event with the bookmakers. The American’s return to the tour after giving birth had it’s ups and downs including two slam final losses – to Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber. The German is another of the top contenders to win it all and already has a title in Melbourne, having won back in 2016.
Full draw here: Australian Open Women’s 2019 Draw
Simona Halep comes into the tournament as the World No.1 but is way down the list of contenders to win and may well drop her No.1 ranking if one of them wins the title and she exits early. The Romanian was a losing finalist last year and eventually broke her slam duck at Paris but an early exit would be no surprise here. A loss in Sydney made it five straight defeats for Halep, dating back to Cincinnati. A dangerous floater in Kaia Kanepi awaits in round one with the Estonian having already crushed Halep in their meeting at the US Open last year 6-2 6-4. Should Halep advance, she may well have to see off both Williams sisters to just make the quarter finals. Barring a major shock, Serena should be waiting in the fourth round and she remains hungry to increase her slam count and eventually pass Margaret Court’s total. Serena ended her 2018 with an 18-6 record, with those two finals being the most notable. The way Kerber outworked Serena at Wimbledon should give Halep hope in a potential meeting but she would remain a comfortable underdog.
Garbine Muguruza looks to bounce back from her disappointing 2018 with a good run here. While her main tour play has often been inconsistent, Muguruza had generally always played tough at the slams and proved why she is a multiple winner and World No.1. However, losses to the likes of Karolina Muchova and Alison Van Uytvanck show there is still plenty of room for improvement. It won’t be easy with 10th seed Daria Kasatkina a potential third round opponent, someone that beat her twice last year. Karolina Pliskova may well make it to the fourth round by beating three qualifiers with young Pole Iga Swiatek hoping to spring a shock on the forever inconsistent Camila Giorgi in round two. The Czech, who has never made it past the quarter finals here, rounds off the group of five former or present No.1’s in the top quarter of the draw.
Naomi Osaka is now a household name on the tour after her US Open victory and expectations will be high for the 21 year-old coming into this tournament. Osaka showed glimpses of things to come in making the fourth round here last year but would be somewhat disappointed if her run ended at this stage this year, given her status as the No.4 seed. While Singapore was not a success, she didn’t fall foul of the traditional slip in form that many new champions do upon a first slam. Should Victoria Azarenka make the third round, a matchup between the two could be a thriller. Much of that will depend on Azarenka, who is still finding it difficult to consistently maintain the level that saw win several titles in Australia. Qiang Wang and Anastasija Sevastova remain dangerous but there will be many more eyes on the new Canadian hope Bianca Andreescu, who followed up Auckland final with qualification for the tournament.
While failing to win a slam in 2018, Elina Svitolina was boosted by winning the next biggest thing in the year end WTA Finals in Singapore. She beat five of the top ten players in the world to win the title, something that should put her in good stead for 2019. However, a disappointing loss to Sasnovich in her only warm up match is not what she would have wanted. The Ukranian had her best run in Australia last year, losing to Elise Mertens in the quarter final. It is the very same opponent who may well stand between her and the last 8 again, with the Belgian projected to meet her in round four going by the seedings but Madison Keys will be hoping to thwart that. The American has made at least the semi finals in three of her last five slams although that does not include the Australian Open, where she fell one stage earlier last year.
Petra Kvitova comes into the tournament high on confidence after winning the title in Sydney. She came from a set down to beat Ashleigh Barty in a tight three setter. More notable than that was the ease with which she beat Aryna Sabalenka in the opening round there. The Belarussian is actually rated as the third most likely to win the tournament with many bookmakers and could well have found herself in the US Open final last time round had she not ran into an unstoppable Naomi Osaka. Despite her rapid improvement, Sabalenka is still a player with little slam pedigree so it will remain hard to judge how she will compete in the big matches. She lost her opener in Melbourne last year but the early rounds should still pose no trouble for her before Kvitova potentially awaits in round four.
She may be third seed and defending champion but it doesn’t feel like Caroline Wozniacki is amongst the top level of contenders to win this event either. She still remains vulnerable to a zoning big hitter as shown by some of her late season losses in 2018. Despite all the doubts over her, it’s not a draw that should see her depart early as some may expect. Maria Sharapova is the seed standing between her and the fourth round, someone who is clearly performing way below her previous standards still. Sharapova was a champion here in 2008 and has three losing finals to her name also but has found it tough getting back to the top, taking a few shock losses last season. Jelena Ostapenko and Ashleigh Barty will be eyeing the draw with one of them hoping to make a lot of noise on the way to a potential fourth round and further.
The final quarter of the draw is headed by Angelique Kerber, hoping to win her second Australian Open and fourth slam title overall. The German bounced back from a poor 2017 in some style with a No.2 ranking the reward for an excellent 2018 that saw her win Wimbledon, outplaying Serena in the final. She is one of the favourites to take the title here, likely in part due to a fairly kind draw. The toughest player she could face before the quarter finals is either Julia Gorges or Caroline Garcia. She has a 5-2 record against Garcia while she has not played Gorges in over 6 years. The German remains dangerous and comes into the tournament in good form having defended her title in Auckland.
No.5 seed Sloane Stephens is the last of the contenders in the bottom half of the draw. The American has proved many a doubter wrong by maintaining her form following the 2017 US Open title. A Miami title and French Open final were the highlights for her last year but she will have been disappointed to have exited in round one in Melbourne last year. It does provide her with plenty of room to move up the rankings though, with a No.1 spot still a possibility for her after this fortnight. Kiki Bertens ended the year inside the top 10 after a strong year that included a title in Cincinnati. This is the Dutchwoman’s weakest slam statistically, with just three wins in the six years she has been a participant in the main draw.
Prediction – Serena Williams beats Angelique Kerber in the final