The 2018 Australian Open is set to begin down under in less than a week from now. On the women’s side, the tournament showcases one of the most wide-open fields in recent memory.
This year’s unpredictability is largely in part to Serena Williams’ comeback attempt falling just short, as she withdrew from the tournament in early January. Williams, who won the 2017 Australian Open, will not be back to defend her title after giving birth to her first daughter just four months ago.
With arguably the most dominant player of this century sitting this year’s tournament out, the attention now shifts to the remaining field. Here is a look at which players are primed to make a run and potentially capture the 2018 Australian Open crown.
Muguruza is coming off a strong 2017 season, one which saw her win her second career Grand Slam at Wimbledon. She was able to reach the fourth round or better at each of the Grand Slams last season as well as work her way to world number one in September. Muguruza is known for her strong serve and powerful groundstrokes on both the forehand and the backhand which allow her to dictate rallies and limit unforced errors. After advancing to the quarterfinal in last year’s tournament, it is clear that Muguruza has all the necessary tools to capture her first Australian Open title in 2018.
Pliskova enters 2018 coming off arguably the best year of her career. After reaching the final of the US Open in 2016, she followed that up by reaching at least the quarterfinal in three of four Grand Slams last season, including the Australian Open. She ended her year by finishing runner-up in the WTA Finals, losing to Caroline Wozniacki. With one of the strongest and most accurate serves in the game right now, the former world number one appears ready to break through and capture her first career Grand Slam in 2018, with her first chance coming in Australia.
Starting her 2018 season by winning the Shenzhen Open, Halep fired a warning shot to the rest of the field ahead of the Australian Open – the current world number one is ready for her first Grand Slam title. Halep had somewhat of an up and down 2017 season which saw her lose first round matches in both the Australian Open and US Open but also reach the final of the French Open. Halep has been close to winning a Grand Slam several times in the past and this could finally be the year the aggressive baseline player gets to the next level.
Wozniacki is hoping to build off the sudden resurgence she experienced in 2017. She was able to reach 14 quarterfinals in 2017, including an imposing win at the WTA Finals. It’s been six years since Wozniacki was the world number one, where she held the distinction for an impressive 67 weeks. Wozniacki is playing some of the most consistent tennis of her career at the moment. Add in that this year’s tournament features a completely wide open field and this could perhaps be one of her best chances to capture her first Grand Slam title.
Svitolina enters the 2018 Australian Open coming fresh off her win at the Brisbane International. Svitolina is coming off the best year of her career so far, reaching a high of world number three this past September. She has one of the stronger backhands on the tour and is one of the best right now at hitting shots on the run. She is no stranger to turning in impressive performances on the big stage, having registered career wins against former Grand Slam champions Ana Ivanovic, Serena Williams, Angelique Kerber, Garbiñe Muguruza and Petra Kvitova.
No introduction needed for the five-time Grand Slam champion. After serving a 15-month suspension for a failed drug test at the 2016 Australian Open, Sharapova returned to the WTA in late April of last year. She received a wildcard to play in last year’s US Open and advanced to the fourth round of the tournament, defeating Simona Halep along the way. Sharapova has had her share of success down under, reaching the Australian Open final on four occasions. If she can battle through a tough draw, look for her to have a chance to make another deep run here in 2018.
Expect another former world number one to be in the running for this year’s Australian Open title. After claiming Australian and US Open titles in 2016, along with a finals appearance at Wimbledon, Kerber suffered a severe drop off in 2017. She was bounced in the first round of both the French Open and US Open and saw her world ranking fall outside of the top 20 for the first time since 2012. Do not be surprised if Kerber rebounds in a big way in 2018. Kerber is one of the best service returners in the game and is coming off an impressive run to the final at the Hopman Cup to start 2018. She will be a favorite to win if she is able to return to her 2016 form.
While she has been largely overshadowed by her younger sister in recent years, Venus Williams reminded us all that she still has something left in the tank in 2017. The seven-time Grand Slam champion enjoyed a renaissance year, appearing in the final in Australia as well as at Wimbledon, while also reaching the semi-final at the US Open. While the 37-year-old has not won a singles Grand Slam title since 2008, she has been one of the most consistent players on tour in recent years, reaching at least the fourth round in 10 of the last 12 Grand Slams. Look for the fan favorite to have yet another solid showing at a Grand Slam, potentially going all the way.
- Brenden Decker is a contributor for The Slice and he is from Waterloo, Canada. Follow him on social media @brendendecker.