The tennis season is making a long-awaited return with one of its premiere tournaments to offer in the Down Under – the Australian Open. Although it is played on a rather conventional hardcourt, it is always the Australian summer heat that gets to the players. The women’s singles draw is setting up to be a good one and here is a breakdown of some of the top four seeds for bracketology purposes and some notable watches.
Simona Halep is looking to make a victorious comeback after sustaining a back injury back in September and the no. 1 seed quite literally took a spill in the Sydney International, crashing out in the round of 16 against Ashleigh Barty. Consistency is always Simona’s calling card, and this quality is generally hard to find in the current women’s circuit. A nagging back injury is the last thing that she needs, alongside a rather tough draw early on. She also enters the tournament without a coach. The runner-up from last year need to find her form quick before possible matchups with the Williams sisters in the third and fourth round. Personally, I think she was a bit unlucky and I don’t see her repeating her successful campaign last year.
The hard-hitting German Angelique Kerber is the two-seed of the tournament, and she is definitely a beneficiary of a kind draw. Coming off a Wimbledon win last year and two major wins the year prior, which include an AO final classic against Serena Williams, she has the shot to go far. Way at the bottom part of the draw, she could realistically face her first true challenge against Sloane Stephens in the fourth round if she were to be on top of her form. The semifinalist last year could very well add another piece of major silverware with her aggressive ground strokes.
Caroline Wozniacki was the feel-good story from last year, clinching her first and well-deserved major here in Melbourne last year. A diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis could derail her career, though. She has spoken about her struggles with the disease and in turn, her life and her playing schedule has to be monitored more closely. The three-seed relies on a sound defensive game, and it would be interesting to see if she will be changing up her patented playing style a little bit here and there. The three-seed’s main challenges early on would be a pair of rather erratic and boom-or-bust players in Jelena Ostapenko and Maria Sharapova. She is the type of player you would have to play by ear and monitor her condition as and if she continues advancing into the tournament.
Naomi Osaka is the hotshot superstar after a controversial yet extremely convincing US Open win against Serena Williams. With the conditions akin to its New York major counterpart, her style could well carry her deep into the tournament. She is in the way less dreadful half of a tough upper draw and that gives her a boost as well. Sometimes in the world of inconsistency, momentum becomes a crucial force and Osaka surely carries every single bit of that.
Sloane Stephens started out on the wrong foot to open up this season – with an early exit in the Sydney International akin to Simona Halep. Coming back to the place she made a name for herself way back in 2013, she looks to pick up her run of form since the triumphant campaign she had in Flushing two years back. Consistency still remains a problem for Stephens as seen in her major results last year (1R-Final-1R-QF), but she is at a surface that she is familiar with. Kiki Bertens will serve as her main challenge early on with the aforementioned Angelique Kerber possibly booking a place with her in the fourth round.
There are very few things that could be said about Serena Williams now. She is still the headliner for the sport and undoubted one of the best athletes in this millennium. After a lengthy layoff because of her pregnancy, Serena quickly regained her form and dominance but to be particularly picky, she didn’t have any trophies to show for. She came extremely close with the last two majors of the year, but was decisively defeated in both of them by a close friend Angelique Kerber and also Naomi Osaka. However, she is the Patriots-esque figure in this circuit – you never bet against her and certainly I won’t in this case. She has a tough draw ahead of her as the 16th seed, including possible early matchups with her sister and Halep, but now with enough time to fine tune and rest up, she will be the undoubted frontrunner as always.
Danielle Collins is more of a fun pick to watch. The two-time NCAA Division I champion at the University of Virginia made her big break the past year with two good runs at Indian Wells and Miami. The brash and hard-hitting 25-year-old did not come from the traditional pro tennis background where she traveled the world for tournaments when she was 16, and looks to continue her ascend to the upper echelon of the circuit. The world number 36 will look to give a run for the money to seeds like Julia Goerges, Caroline Garcia and Angelique Kerber on her part of the draw.