Australian Open 2018: In Serena’s Absence, Watch for These 8 Women
Only two former Australian Open winners are competing in the women’s draw this year.
Women's tennis starts its 2018 campaign with the usual early focus on the Australian Open and a huge question mark over who can fill the yawning gap left by the absence of Serena Williams.
No one was able to get anywhere close last year, not just in terms of consistently winning the biggest tournaments but also when it comes to charisma.
Williams left Melbourne a year ago with a 23rd grand slam title under her belt but soon hung up her racket for the remainder of 2017 upon discovering she was eight weeks pregnant at the time of her triumph.
Her forced hiatus will extend past this year's tournament after she decided last week that she was not fully match-ready, giving the chasing pack more opportunities to stamp their authority on the women's game.
Going into Melbourne this month, following are the eight women who could bag the title this year round.
1. Simona Halep: Top Seed
- Age: 26
- 2017 Win-Loss Record: 45-17
- 2017 Singles Titles: 1, Career Singles Titles: 15
- Major titles: 0 — Best: French Open finalist ('17, '14)
- Last 5 Australian Opens: '17-1st; '16-1st, '15-QF, '14-QF, '13-1st
Halep has never advanced beyond the quarterfinals at the Australian Open and, for the last two years, has lost in the first round. Last year, she was beaten by American Shelby Rogers while bothered by a sore knee.
She was fourth-seeded then but comes into this year's Australian Open with the No. 1 ranking despite still having no Grand Slam singles titles.
Recent form: Halep won last week’s Shenzhen Open, beating Katarina Siniakova in the final, to ensure she’d remain the top-ranked player for the Australian Open.
The Romanian had her equal-best Grand Slam performance at last year's French Open, losing in the final to Jelena Ostapenko despite being a set and 3-0 up. She lost the 2014 final at Roland Garros to Maria Sharapova.
2. Carolina Wozniacki: 2nd Seed
- Age: 27
- 2017 Win-Loss Record: 60-21
- 2017 Singles Titles: 2, Career Singles Titles: 27
- Major Titles: 0 — Best: US Open finalist '14, '09
- Last 5 Australian Opens: '17-3rd. '16-1st, '15-2nd, '14-3rd, '13-4th
In 2011, Wozniacki made it to the semifinals at the Australian Open, losing to Li Na. She lost in the quarterfinals the following year to Kim Clijsters, a defeat which cost Wozniacki her No. 1 ranking.
Recent Form: Wozniacki lost in the final of the ASB Classic to Julia Goerges in Auckland, New Zealand, last week before rising to No. 2 in the rankings.
The Danish star held the top ranking at stages of 2010, 2011 and 2012, without having won a major. Once again tough, she is edging closer back to the No. 1 spot, thanks in part to Serena Williams' long absence, but she still hasn't won that elusive first Grand Slam singles title.
3. Garbine Muguruza: 3rd Seed
- Age: 24
- 2017 Win-Loss Record: 47-21,
- 2017 Singles Titles: 2, Career Singles Titles: 5
- Major Titles: 2 — French Open ('16), Wimbledon ('17)
- Last 5 Australian Opens: '17-QF, '16-3rd, '15-4th, '14-4th, '13-2nd
Muguruza is freshly off one of her best seasons, backing her first major at the French Open in 2016 (beating Serena Williams) with a second major title at Wimbledon in 2017, beating Venus Williams in straight sets to become the first player to defeat both Williams sisters in major singles finals.
She took over the No. 1 ranking at the US Open despite losing in the fourth round, but held it for only four weeks.
Recent form: Muguruza was forced to retire with cramping in her first match of the year at the Brisbane International. She accepted a wild card at the Sydney International but withdrew ahead of her quarterfinal match with a right thigh injury.
4. Elina Svitolina: 4th Seed
- Age: 23
- 2017 Match Record: 50-13
- 2017 Singles Titles: 5, Career Singles Titles: 10
- Major Titles: 0 — Best: QF French Open ('17, '15)
- Last 5 Australian Opens: '17-3rd, '16-2nd, '15-3rd, '14-3rd, '13-1st
Svitolina had a breakout season last year, winning five tournaments and reaching a career-high No. 3 ranking in September.
Recent form: She started off the new year in fine style with a win at the Brisbane International, ensuring she’d move up two ranking spots to take the fourth seed at the Australian Open
Her record at Melbourne Park isn't the most ideal, losing in the third round in three of her five past appearances.
5. Venus Williams: 5th Seed
- Age: 37
- 2017 Match Record: 38-14
- 2017 Singles Titles: 0, Career Singles Titles: 49
- Major Titles: 7 — Wimbledon ('00, '01, '05, '07, '08), US Open ('00, '01)
- Last 5 Australian Opens: '17-F, '16-1st, '15-QF, '14-1st, '13-3rd
Venus didn't win a single tournament last year, but led the WTA in prize money and there was quality in some of her "major" defeats. Started off with a loss to her sister Serena in the Australian Open final, later lost in the Wimbledon title match to Garbine Muguruza, advanced to the semifinals at the US Open (losing to eventual champion Sloane Stephens) then finished off the year with a loss in the WTA Finals to Caroline Wozniacki.
So far this season, Venus lost her first match at the Sydney International, her only tune-up tournament.
6. Karolina Pliskova: 6th Seed
- Age: 25
- 2017 Match Record: 53-18
- 2017 Singles Titles: 3, Career Singles Titles: 9
- Major Titles: 0 — Best: Runner-Up, US Open ('16)
- Last 5 Australian Opens: '17-QF, '16-3rd, '15-3rd, '14-2nd, '13-1st
Pliskova rose to No. 1 after Wimbledon 2016 despite a second-round loss there and no Grand Slam titles, holding the top ranking for seven weeks.
Recent form: Plishkovs lost to eventual champion Elina Svitolina in the Brisbane International semifinals last week.
She led the WTA Tour in aces for the third season with 452, 40 more than second-place Julia Goerges. Also set the mark for most aces in a single match, hitting 21 against Dominika Cibulkova en route to the Qatar Total Open title. Also led the WTA in service games won with 79.1 percent. "I don't remember practicing my serves for hours," she said. "So always if you're a little taller you have a chance to have a good serve," she said.
7. Sloane Stephens: 13th Seed
- Age: 24
- 2017 Match Record: 15-10
- 2017 Singles Titles: 1, Career Singles Titles: 5
- Major Title: 1 — US Open '17
- Last 5 Australian Opens: '17-DNP, '16-1st, '15-1st, '14-4th, '13-SF
Stephens didn't play last year's Australian Open because of a left foot injury that kept her out of action until Wimbledon, where she lost in the first round. She, however, more than made up for it in her next Slam, winning her first major title at the US Open, beating Madison Keys in an all-American final.
She finished the year on a downward note losing her last six matches – four at tournaments in China and twice in the Fed Cup final, where the US still beat Belarus 3-2.
Recent form: The new year didn’t start any better for Stephens when she dropped her first-round match last week at the Sydney International in straight sets to Italian qualifier Camila Giorgi.
8. Maria Sharapova: Unseeded
- Age: 30
- 2017 Match Record: 16-5
- 2017 Singles Titles: 1, Career Singles Titles: 36
- Major titles: 5: Australian Open (2008), French Open (2012, 2014), Wimbledon (2004), US Open (2006)
- Last 5 Australian Opens: '17-DNP, '16-QF, '15-F, '14-4th, '13-SF
The 2008 Australian Open champion and three-time Australian Open runner-up makes her return to Melbourne Park after missing last year's event as part of a 15-month ban after a failed doping test here in 2016. She is one of only two former Australian Open winners in the women's draw this year.
Recent form: Sharapova lost in the semifinals of the Shenzhen Open to start off her new year.
She returned to Grand Slam tennis as a wildcard entry at the US Open, where she beat Halep in the first round before a fourth-round exit. Sharapova eventually finished 2017 at No. 60 in the rankings.
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