The Australian Open begins on Monday but the women’s draw will be without one of the big names this fortnight. Bianca Andreescu is still suffering from the effects of a knee injury picked up back at the WTA Finals last year and will not be competing. The home support will feel one of their own has a chance for the title too with the Ashleigh Barty heading into the event as the World No.1.
Full draw here: AO 2020 Women’s Draw
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Still only 23, Barty’s career has been fascinating to date. A precocious teen who quit the sport at 18 to play cricket before returning in 2016, improving year on year with the end result being a French Open title and World No.1 spot in 2019. She also won the WTA Finals to end the year and carried on that form by winning the Adelaide title this weekend, beating Dayana Yastremska. Despite her accolades and ranking, there appears to be a perception that Barty can be vulnerable despite a solid all-round game aided by her net play that she honed as an elite doubles player. She will hope to better her quarter final of last year, a current career best. Amongst those seeking to earn an early scalp are Elena Rybakina. Rybakina already has two WTA finals this year, going 1-1 in them – winning in Hobart after losing in Shenzhen. Also in this section are Alison Riske and Petra Martic, two top 20 seeds who thrive much more on their preferred grass and clay respectively.
Last year’s losing finalist Petra Kvitova isn’t being mooted as a potential winner this time round but can never be written off due to her highest level. However, her slam record doesn’t make for pretty reading other than the aforementioned final last year. She only made it to the second week of one other slam from six attempts even though she has been in the top 10 throughout. Ekaterina Alexandrova already has a title this year while Madison Keys will hope to peak at a slam once more. Keys’ better performances have always come at the bigger tournaments but she is still capable of throwing in a terrible performance from time to time, her Wimbledon loss to Polona Hercog a prime example. The American has gone well in Melbourne before, including a quarter final in 2018. She shouldn’t have too much trouble in her opener, against a Daria Kasatkina who is a shadow of the player that troubled the top 10 not too long ago.
The second quarter of the draw is a fascinating one on paper but there is one quarter final that many will have already pencilled in – that of Naomi Osaka vs Serena Williams. It’s not a certainty though with question marks over both players. At times it has felt like Osaka struggled to live up to the high standards she set for herself with the back to back slams across 2018 and 2019. Combined with coaching upheaval, there has been surprise results at slams following her title here last year. She will seek to avoid an early loss, which seems unlikely with her route to the fourth round. There could be a rematch of her US Open third round with Cori Gauff, who she crushed 6-3 6-0 in New York. The young American clearly has game but her current ceiling showed in that defeat, with Osaka a clear step up from early opponents. Gauff will actually play Venus Williams in round one, the same opponent she defeated at Wimbledon to burst onto the scene. Sofia Kenin remains a tricky customer and is one of the tougher players around in this section of the draw. Osaka needed to hold tough to carve out a win against the American in three sets in Brisbane earlier in the month.
Serena should be in confident mood having won a rare International title in Auckland, defeating Jessica Pegula in the final. She will be delighted to have got back to winning ways in a final, even if a lower tournament has far less pressure for the American. The 38 year-old is still capable of playing at an extremely high level as her four slam finals since returning from pregnancy have shown. However, it remains a concern that her performances in these matches have been below her usual high standards, losing all four and failing to take a set in any of them. That pressure will continue to mount up for a player who is notoriously harsh on herself. She will once again look to equal Margaret Court’s 24 total slams with her route to at least the quarter finals looking like she will get close to having the chance at least. Dayana Yastremska and Johanna Konta look the toughest opponents in this part of the draw with the former off a final in Adelaide. Yastremska did lose in the final to Ashleigh Barty but can be a very dangerous opponent on her day, capable of hitting many a player off the court – although arguably that is the type of player Serena still thrives against it.
The third quarter of the draw looks quite interesting with Simona Halep looking to make her second Australian Open final having lost one in 2018. She is amongst the favourites from her quarter to advance but there are a number of dangers in her way. Danielle Collins is a potential third round opponent and has proven herself to be extremely dangerous on her best days. Across Brisbane and Adelaide she has defeated Elina Svitolina, Sofia Kenin and Belinda Bencic for the lost of just two, four and four games respectively. She also pushed eventual Adelaide champ Ashleigh Barty to a final set tiebreak before falling to defeat. Collins is absolutely the type of player who can pull off the shock win here but could just as easily fall to a second round loss against a tricky Su-Wei Hsieh or Yulia Putintseva.
Aryna Sabalenka will feel confident of a strong run here after a good tournament in Adelaide. She made the semi finals, eventually falling to Dayana Yastremska. That run did include a strong win over Halep, who she outplayed in straight sets. Expectations have been high for the Belarussian who has a very impressive power game on her best days. It’s a draw that is generally quite nice for her with sixth seed Belinda Bencic looking the top threat for her. The pair have met twice in the past 2 years, going 1-1 while she holds a 1-3 record against the other big seed in her section – Donna Vekic. We could well have been talking about a grand slam winner Bencic had she held her nerve in last year’s semi final with Bianca Andreescu. The Swiss player was the better player for much of her loss to the eventual champion but it was the Canadian the played the best tennis in the key moments. Maria Sharapova is also in this part of the draw but her opener with Vekic is far from an ideal for a player looking for form.
Elina Svitolina was crushed in her only match this year, losing to Danielle Collins, but is a live outsider for the tournament aside with a quarter that is fairly favourable. The Ukranian had been finding it tough to make it to the latter end of slams but two straight semi finals suggest a breakthrough has been made. A returning Katie Boulter in round one should allow her to ease into the event if there are minor injury niggles but ahead of a potentially tough third round with either Anastasija Sevastova or even Garbine Muguruza, who is unseeded coming into this tournament. Kiki Bertens is the projected opponent in round four for her but that would be a career best for the Dutchwoman at this event, having only made the third round once in Melbourne – back in 2018. It will also be interesting to see how Amanda Anisimova performs with her semi final at Roland Garros raising expectations for the young American.
For one of the top defenders in the game, it will always be players like Karolina Pliskova that should trouble Svitolina on their best days. The World No.2 still needs to get the slamless curse off her back and may well see this draw as a good chance to go far and at least match her semi final of last year. The Czech leads the head to head 5-4 but that doesn’t quite tell the whole story as she has lost the last four, winning just one set across them. Angelique Kerber‘s better days might be less common now but she is one that shouldn’t be written off having had a proven winning mentality. However, a retirement in her last match may not bode well for the upcoming fortnight. Marketa Vondrousova will boost the Czech representation in this section but she comes into the event with few matches under her belt having only played three since Wimbledon.