Australian Open 2018: Women’s Preview

With defending champion Serena Williams on maternity leave and two-time winner Victoria Azarenka also absent, the Australian Open women’s singles draw has been blown wide open.

There are a number of leading contenders vying for top honours in Melbourne, starting with the world number one.

SIMONA HALEP

World ranking: 1
Current form: WWWWW
2017 titles: 1
Best AO result: Quarter-finals in 2014, 2015

Halep has been the proverbial underachiever when it comes to the Grand Slams. Despite winning 16 times on the WTA Tour and being in the top 10 since 2014, the diminutive Romanian has reached just two slam finals. Most recently at the French Open, she blew a set lead to let the talented Jelena Ostapenko back into the contest, continued to flounder, and lost the final.

But times, they are a-changing. Halep reached two more finals after the French Open disappointment and her hard work finally paid off at last week’s Shenzhen Open, where she dropped just two sets on her way to the title. As such, the world number one arrives in Melbourne in high spirits, in good form, and with a six win streak.

CAROLINE WOZNIACKI

World ranking:
2
Current form: WWWWL
2017 titles: 2
Best AO result: Semi-final in 2011

The Dane is finally returning to her form of old which saw her sit atop of the WTA rankings way back in 2010. Wozniacki reached no less than eight finals in 2017, finally earning some silverware in September at the Pan Pacific Open.

Wozniacki went on to put on a number of superb performances at the season-ending WTA Finals; culminating in a memorable straight sets win over Venus Williams in the final. This year, the 27-time WTA tour winner, dropped one set on the way to the final of the Auckland Open, where she lost to Julia Goerges.

VENUS WILLIAMS

World ranking:
5
Current form: WLWLL
2017 titles: 0
Best AO result: Final in 2003, 2017

Last year’s runner-up is arguably the most dangerous player in the women’s draw, given that Williams can beat anyone – even her mighty sister – on her day. The seven-time Grand Slam winner reminding us all that even at 37-years-old, she can still mix it with the best on the big stages – reaching the final in Melbourne, Wimbledon and Singapore at the WTA Finals. 

Should Williams get over the initial hurdles, which include the dangerous Belinda Bencic in the opening round, she is on track to face rising star Elina Svitolina in the quarter-finals.

ELINA SVITOLINA

World ranking:
4
Current form: WWWWW
2017 titles: 5
Best AO result: Third round, 2014, 2015, 2017

If you like to play the odds, you won't find better value than Svitolina. The 23-year-old was the shining light of the WTA Tour in 2017, claiming five titles – more than anyone else on tour.

Svitolina seems to have big match temperament, winning 10 out of the 12 finals she's walked into; her talent spearheaded by an accurate serve. The Ukrainian also picked up some big scalps in 2017, defeating fellow top tenners Halep, Wozniacki and Johanna Konta. 

The Odessa native started 2018 with a bang too; losing just one set on her way to winning the Brisbane International last week. Watch this space folks.

KAROLINA PLISKOVA

World ranking:
6
Current form: WLWWL
2017 titles: 3
Best AO result: Quarter-finals in 2017

One of the more consistent players on tour, Pliskova reached the last eight in three of the four Grand Slams in 2017, only losing to Halep in the second round at Wimbledon.

At the French, Pliskova enjoyed another deep run, but was against ousted by Halep after winning the second set. 

When her ground game is on song, few can match Pliskova’s power. It was this attribute that helped her claim the world number one ranking last year and what makes her one of the favourites at Melbourne this month. 

Bubbling under…

Third seed Garbine Muguruza is nursing a thigh injury she suffered at the ongoing Sydney International. As such, her fitness is in question but the Spaniard undoubtedly has Grand Slam potential. 

Rising star Jelena Ostapenko is another to watch, with a never-say-die attitude and decent power-hitting making her a dangerous opponent. The seventh seed will be tested against CoCo Vendeweghe in the fourth round if all hold seed.

Finally, 2016 winner Angelique Kerber endured a rough 2017, only making one final, but has thrown out her coach and taken a month break in the hopes of turning over a new leaf. It seems to have worked, as she beat Venus Williams at the Sydney International.

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