2018 Australian Open: Women’s Preview + Predictions

With defending champion Serena Williams out, the field is wide open.

In other words, someone has to win this thing.

No. 1 Seed Simona Halep’s Quarter of the Draw

TOP HALF FT. HALEP, ELENA VESNINA, ASHLEIGH BARTY, etc.

No. 1 seed Simona Halep has what it takes to win majors, but over the past few years, the Romanian had struggled mightily at closing tight matches. Despite not winning a match at this tournament since 2015, she enters as the top seed overall and is coming off a title win in Shenzhen last week. The good form, combined with a relatively easy draw, should see Halep through to the Round of 16 and beyond. Depending on their third round matchup, either No. 16 seed Elina Vesnina or No. 18 seed Ashleigh Barty could make it tough for Halep in the Round of 16, but I don’t see it.

BOTTOM HALF FT. KAROLINA PLISKOVA, JOHANNA KONTA, BARBARA STRYCOVA, etc.

Just six months ago, No. 6 seed Karolina Pliskova was the No. 1 player in the world and some experts’ favorite to win Wimbledon. But since her shocking second round exit at the hands of Magdalena Rybarikova at that tournament, the 25-year-old Czech has yet to reach a final of any tournament and fallen outside of the top three as a result. Now with new coach Tomas Krupa and a favorable draw to the Round of 16, Pliskova has a great chance of re-claiming her spot at the top of the mountain. Again, depending on a third round matchup, either No. 9 seed Johanna Konta or No. 16 seed Barbara Strycova could pose a threat to Pliskova in the Round of 16. We shall see.

No. 3 Seed Garbiñe Muguruza’s Quarter of the Draw

TOP HALF FT. MUGURUZA, ANASTASIJA SEVASTOVA, etc.

No. 4 seed Garbiñe Muguruza withdrew from each of her last two tournaments due to cramps and a hip injury, respectively. A lack of tennis coming into this tournament could prove costly, especially in a potential second round matchup against Taipei’s Su-Wei Hsieh. The 32-year-old is coming off a semifinals appearance in Auckland, where she defeated Strycova in the quarterfinals.

Ultimately, this could open the door for former World No. 1 and current No. 21 seed Angelique Kerber. After winning two majors, including the Australian Open, in 2016, the German struggled mightily in 2017, failing to get past the Round of 16 in all four majors. So she decided to part ways with former coach Torben Beltz in November and hire Wim Fissette. So far, it appears Kerber made the right move, as she went on to win her first title since the 2016 U.S. Open in Sydney this past week. If Kerber can keep this up, there’s very little chance that No. 14 seed Anastasija Sevastova will be able to stop her in a potential third round matchup.

BOTTOM HALF FT. CAROLINE GARCIA, KRISTINA MLADENOVIC, MADISON KEYS, etc.

Remember the name: Yulia Puntintseva.

She’s beaten the No. 11 seeded Mladenovic, her potential second round opponent, before on hard court (’16 Indian Wells). In addition, Mladenovic has never advanced past the third round in Melbourne and lost in the first round last year. Putintseva also beat No. 17 seed Madison Keys, her potential third round opponent, on hard court in 2016 (Tokyo). The 22-year-old American has lost both matches she’s participated in since her impressive run to the U.S. Open final last year. But perhaps the most impressive feat of Putintseva’s draw, however, is her 3-0 record against No. 8 seed Caroline Garcia, who retired in her first match in Brisbane last week due to a back injury. With favorable records against all three ranked players, who have question marks of their own, Putintseva has a great chance of causing a major shakeup in this quarter of the draw.

No. 4 Seed Elina Sviotlina’s Quarter of the Draw

TOP HALF FT. VENUS WILLIAMS, JULIA GEORGES, etc.

Twenty years after making her Australian Open début, 37-year-old American Venus Williams will look to get back to the finals. However, the No. 5 seed may run into some trouble in the third round against former semifinalist and No. 31 seed Ekaterina Makarova. The experienced Russian knocked Venus out of this tournament in the first round back in 2014 and has notched some nice wins over some top players in recent months.

Look out for No. 12 seed Julia Goerges, who is playing the best tennis of her career at the moment. Dating back to last season, the 29-year-old German has won her last three tournaments she has participated in: Moscow, WTA Elite, and the first tournament of 2018 in Auckland, where she defeated Caroline Wozniacki in the final. But like Venus, Goerges’ blazing hot play could cool down in the Round of 16 against Makarova, who beat Goerges in the Round of 16 at the 2015 Australian Open.

BOTTOM HALF FT. SVITOLINA, SLOANE STEPHENS, etc.

No. 4 seed Elina Svitolina has won 10 WTA titles in her career, including the Brisbane title just last week. However, she has only reached the quarterfinals of a major twice, and has never made it past the third round in Melbourne. The 23-year-old from the Ukraine has a pretty easy path to the Round of 16, though, so we’ll see if she can finally break through.

As for reigning U.S. Open champion and No. 13 seed Sloane Stephens, the American also has a straightforward path to the Round of 16. The key for Stephens, however, will be staying healthy and getting back on track after five straight losses following her U.S. Open victory. If Stephens can get just string together a few wins, she has the potential to get back to the Australian Open semifinals for the first time since 2013, when she beat Serena Williams in the quarterfinals.

No. 2 Seed Caroline Wozniacki’s Quarter of the Draw

TOP HALF FT. JELENA OSTAPENKO, COCO VANDEWEGHE, etc.

The No. 7 seed, Jelena Ostapenko, should overcome former French Open Francesca Schiavone without much of a problem. Her biggest test could come in the third round against Romania’s Monica Niculescu. The 30-year-old veteran has beaten the defending French Open champion on hard court before (’16 Canadian Masters) and has a very favorable path to the third round. The one big concern with Niculescu, however, is whether she is fully healthy after a neck injury forced to withdraw in Hobart last week. It’s worth noting, though, that up until that point, Niculescu had not dropped a set.

As for No. 10 seed Coco Vandeweghe, she hasn’t played a tournament since losing in the final of the WTA Elite back in November. Combine that with her first Australian Open appearance with coach Pat Cash, and I’m just not sure if the American can continue her stellar play at majors. Not to mention, she may have a tough second round match against former top ten player Carla Suarez Navarro. Keep an eye on 33-year-old Australian Sam Stosur as well. If she can get by Monica Puig in the first round and receives help from her opponents below her in the draw, things could get very interesting in the top half of this quarter. Plus, Stosur will surely have the home crowd behind her, for whatever that’s worth.

BOTTOM HALF FT. WOZNIACKI, ANASTASIA PAVLYUCHENKOVA, MAGDALENA RYBARIKOVA, etc.

This half of the quarter, however, won’t be all that interesting. No. 15 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and No. 19 seed Magdalena Rybarikova are solid players, but neither are a threat to win major titles. With that being said, No. 2 seed Caroline Wozniacki should coast all the way to the semifinals despite her tendency to turn passive in big matches. If she can continue playing the way she has over the past 18 months and keep her confidence up, Wozniacki can win the entire tournament.

QUARTERFINALS
Simona Halep [1] DEF. Karolina Pliskova [6]
Angelique Kerber [21] DEF. Yulia Puntintseva
Sloane Stephens [13] DEF. Ekaterina Makarova [31]
Caroline Wozniacki [2] DEF. Sam Stosur

SEMIFINALS
Simona Halep [1] DEF. Angelique Kerber [21]
Caroline Wozniacki [2] DEF. Sloane Stephens [13]

FINAL
Simona Halep [1] DEF. Caroline Wozniacki [2]

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