With rain predicted for much of the opening day in Melbourne, much of the focus will be on the show courts including Rod Laver Arena. Opening this year’s main draw will be Naomi Osaka, who begins the defence of her title against the Czech Marie Bouzkova.
After splitting with her coach not long after that title, Osaka suffered a loss of form and did look to be struggling with the pressure of being the one that the chasing pack were after. However, her end of season form suggests a corner was being turned with back-to-back titles in Beijing and Osaka. Now with the experienced Wim Fissette, she should be ready to mount a good attempt at defending her title. “It’s not like we had to change a lot. I would have changed a lot had I started after the US Open. But she made a big change there, she went back to using her strengths better in the Asian swing and she got her winning game plan back.” the Belgian said on what has changed since he joined her team. “The serve is probably her biggest weapon, so that is always the biggest focus in training. You need to keep working on the biggest strength.”
Bouzkova is a tricky player who moves well but had been struggling to make a breakthrough on the main tour prior to her big break at Toronto last year. She came all the way from qualifying to the semi finals, beating Sloane Stephens and Simona Halep along the way. She also dominated for a set against Serena Williams before falling in three sets.
The pressure will be on Osaka, who knows that an early exit could see her plummet down the rankings. “I think I would drop out of the Top 10 if I lost in the first round, that kind of weighs heavily on my mind, like, all the time at US Open and here. Just getting that out of the way and trusting myself and knowing if I play the best that I can, then obviously I won’t lose in the first round.” she said. If she can rediscover that fearless confidence that saw her win back-to-back slams, she will be tough to beat here.
Prediction – Naomi Osaka in straight sets