Well, tennis fans, the layoff is over! Despite the dead of winter, the first Grand Slam of 2018 is here from sunny Melbourne, Australia. It’s everyone’s favorite sporting event that’s best moments occur after 4 am in the morning. And this year the obscene time change serves another purpose: adjusting your sleep schedule to be ready for the Winter Olympics a week later, which takes place in a time zone just two hours different. Alas, despite the strange timing, there will be some high quality tennis and both brackets are pretty wide open. Thus, it’s time to dig in to WCBN Sports’ inaugural Australian Open preview.
Once again, the full draw is here. The 2017 women’s season was rocked by Serena Williams’ pregnancy after the Australian Open. She was the dominant force that kept the WTA tennis world together. With her gone, a massive power vacuum opened. And what ensued was immense uncertainty, allowing new players to rise up. Three different players won the remaining three Grand Slams, and 6 different players won the 8 big non-Slam tournaments. It was wide open, and with Serena still not fully back, it remains wide open. So let’s dig into this draw.
The most brutal draw no question is Garbiñe Muguruza’s quarter. In her eighth alone, there is herself, former world #1 and two-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber and one-time Grand Slam finalist/former world #2 Agnieszka Radwańska. Just brutal. Radwanska isn’t what she once was, as she hasn’t made a Grand Slam quarter since the Aussie in 2016, but she’s always dangerous. But Kerber is the true wild card. She entered 2017 as world #1 after taking home two GS titles in 2016, but she had a confoundingly horrible 2017. She didn’t even make the quarters of any slam last year, losing in the first round twice! She also made just one semifinal of a major non-slam tournament and her ranking has tumbled all the way to #16. But she has so much talent that she is a force. In the other eighth, it’s mostly unproven names who hold high seeds (Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia) and Madison Keys, who finally had her breakout at the 2017 US Open. As a whole, her 2017 was pretty unimpressive but she needs to show the US Open wasn’t a fluke. I’m not sure who’s going to come out of this draw, but my pick is probably a big bounceback from Kerber. She just won Sydney, which included wins over Cibulkova, Safarova, and Venus Williams. I like her chances.
No doubt the player I’m most interested in watching is Sloane Stephens, whose 2017 was something of a fairy tale. Once a rising star, Stephens fell on hard times and was well out of the top 100 before she reached the semifinals of both Toronto and Cincy before winning the US Open, catapulting her all the way up to the Top 20. Since then? She’s lost 7 straight matches. Which Stephens is the real one? This tournament will tell us. She’s in the same quarter as Venus Williams, who has the #5 seed, chugging along as an ageless wonder and a legitimate contender. The #4 seed in the quarter is Elina Svitolina. The 23 year old Ukrainian had one of the better 2017 campaigns despite not winning a slam. Williams and Svitolina are only 1-1 against each other career. I’m feeling like Venus is going to come out of this quarter.
The most uncertain quarter is Caroline Wozniacki’s. The 27 year-old Dane’s career has been defined by playing a lot of tournaments but never really winning that many. 2017 was similar, with only one main tournament title to show, the WTA Finals London title. That gives her momentum entering Melbourne, but she’s never reached the finals here and her last semi was 2011. She has to deal with Jelena Ostapenko in this quarter, and the 20 year-old Latvian stunned the world by winning the French Open last year but outside of that, she hasn’t done much at the major tournaments. Maybe this will be her breakout showing Down Under? I wouldn't bet on it. Instead my pick in this quarter is #10 seed CoCo Vandeweghe. She didn’t do much in the smaller tournaments but she brings her A game to the Grand Slams, reaching the semis of the US Open and the Australian Open in 2017, along with a quarterfinal showing at Wimbledon. She’s a big gamer and has a more proven Grand Slam track record than Ostapenko or Wozniacki.
World #1 Simona Halep anchors the final quarter, but boy does she have a tough path to the Round of 16. In the third round, she may have to take on former world #2 and two time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova. The Czech lefty had a horrifying 2017, that saw her miss the Australian Open after she was brutally stabbed during a home invasion. She was sidelined until the French Open and has a low seed, but got better as the year went on, losing in the quarters of the US Open to Venus and the semis of Beijing. Karolina Pliskova is also a force in this quarter, and she had a very solid 2017, making the semis of the French Open and the quarterfinals here in Australia and in the US Open, along with 3 smaller tournament titles. My bet to come out of this quarter is still Halep but I wouldn’t be surprised if any of these players, along with Jo Konta reach the semis.
So what kind of final does this add up to? I picked Venus, Halep, Vandeweghe, and Kerber to reach the semis, Which means that Halep would play Kerber, while Venus Williams plays Vandeweghe, which I see meaning a Halep vs. Williams final, in which case I lean on the younger player with more stamina. Halep is my pick to win it all.
image credit: https://img.vavel.com/halep-surgery-delay-6003281548.jpg