The first Grand Slam of the year gives hope to many players wanting to make a fresh start, or wanting to achieve something they haven’t done before, win a Grand Slam singles title, and the 2018 Australian Open will be no different!
After a 2017 which saw seven changes to the world number one position in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Rankings, two new Grand Slam champions in Jeļena Ostapenko winning at Roland Garros, which was incidentally her first career title, and Sloane Stephens, who made a magnificent return from a left foot stress fracture to win the United States (US) Open, as well as defending Australian Open champion Serena Williams giving birth to her first child and making herself unavailable for the first grand slam of 2018, the 2018 Australian Open is wide open!
Can either Simona Halep, who has lost in the first round of the Australian Open in the last two years, as well as in four of the last six, or Karolína Plíšková, who had a consistent 2017, win their first grand slam titles after becoming world number ones last year despite not having won a Grand Slam title?
Can Caroline Wozniacki win her first grand slam title at the 2018 Australian Open after so many years of trying? Of course, she became the world number one back in 2010, and you sense she is returning close to the form of 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and to a lesser extent 2014, where she made two Grand Slam finals, losing to Kim Clijsters and Serena Williams at the 2009 US Open and 2014 US Open respectively, as well as making a further seven quarter finals or better in her Grand Slam career.
Can Elina Svitolina claim her first grand slam title after winning five singles titles in 2017, the most by any player last year on the WTA Tour, and after starting 2018 superbly by winning convincingly in Brisbane?
Can Venus Williams, after a wonderful, yet winless year in terms of titles in 2017, in fact the first time she has finished inside the Top 10 in the WTA Rankings without winning a title, turn back the clock again, and perhaps win her first Australian Open crown, which would make her the oldest Australian Open women’s champion in history? Williams will equal Amy Frazier’s and Nicole Pratt’s record of 18 Australian Open appearances.
Will Garbiñe Muguruza overcome her physical issues to be a factor at the 2018 Australian Open after winning at Wimbledon last year?
Can Jeļena Ostapenko and Sloane Stephens handle the pressure of expectations at Melbourne Park after winning their first Grand Slam titles in 2017?
Will someone else jump out of the pack, such as a Caroline Garcia, Johanna Konta, CoCo Vandeweghe, Kristina Mladenovic, Julia Görges, or even a Madison Keys to go deep at the first Grand Slam of 2018?
Can Angelique Kerber bounce back after a poor 2017 to contend for her second Australian Open title?
Can Petra Kvitová bounce back from her issues to contend for her first Australian Open crown?
What about a dangerous floater, such as a Belinda Bencic or a Maria Sharapova, causing some damage at Melbourne Park?
Or will an Australian, such as Ashleigh Barty, Daria Gavrilova, or Samantha Stosur, star at their home Grand Slam?
There are so many storylines, so without further adieu, here is my look at the 2018 Australian Open women’s singles draw.
The very top section of the draw appears to be the toughest with the likes of world number one Simona Halep, 2014 Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard, 2014 Roland Garros semi-finalist Andrea Petkovic, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitová, number one Australian Ashleigh Barty, highly-rated Italian Camila Giorgi, Japanese rising star Naomi Osaka, and 2016 Wimbledon semi-finalist Elena Vesnina lurking within this section.
While Halep is certainly in better form heading to Melbourne Park compared to the last two years, winning in Shenzhen, you sense that the quicker surface will be better suited to the power game of Kvitová, and the all-court game of Barty.
My predicted fourth round match-up: (27) Petra Kvitová vs. (18) Ashleigh Barty
In this section, Great Britain’s Johanna Konta, and the Czech trio of Barbora Strýcová, Lucie Šafářová, and Karolína Plíšková, each of them making at least one Grand Slam quarter-final or better, look a class above their immediate rivals, with Konta and Plíšková having a comfortable edge on paper over Strýcová and Šafářová respectively.
My predicted fourth round match-up: (9) Johanna Konta vs. (6) Karolína Plíšková
Section three contains a number of big guns including 2016 Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber, who just won in Sydney, 2008 Australian Open champion Maria Sharapova, two-time Grand Slam winner Garbiñe Muguruza, as well as the likes of 2012 Wimbledon finalist Agnieszka Radwańska, and two-time US Open quarter finalist Anastasija Sevastova just to name a few.
However, you sense that Kerber is getting back to the form that took her to world number one, and two Grand Slam titles in 2016, and should be a serious title threat, with Radwańska also looking in good shape given the fitness issues for Muguruza.
My predicted fourth round match-up: (26) Agnieszka Radwańska vs. (21) Angelique Kerber
2017 US Open runner-up Madison Keys looks the standout player in this section of the draw with two-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist Kristina Mladenovic and 2017 Roland Garros quarter-finalist Caroline Garcia looking like the only players in this section capable of challenging Keys.
If Keys finds her best form, she can make the final, and perhaps lift her first Grand Slam singles title.
My predicted fourth round match-up: (17) Madison Keys vs. (8) Caroline Garcia
The first thing that stands out in section five of the women’s draw is the blockbuster first round match-up between seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams and 2014 US Open quarter-finalist Belinda Bencic, which is certainly a potential upset in the making!
Two-time Grand Slam semi-finalist Ekaterina Makarova, Australian star Daria Gavrilova, rising Belgian player Elise Mertens, who just won in Hobart, France’s Alizé Cornet, and German star Julia Görges, who recently won in Auckland, are the other strong players in this section of the draw, and you sense Gavrilova is primed for another big run at Melbourne Park.
My predicted fourth round match-up: Belinda Bencic vs. (23) Daria Gavrilova
2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens, and world number four Elina Svitolina are the best two players in this section, and should meet each other in the fourth round, with only Russian youngster Daria Kasatkina and 2014 US Open semi-finalist Peng Shuai capable of challenging them.
However, I believe Svitolina after winning in Brisbane is in the best position to claim the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup, and win her first Grand Slam singles title.
My predicted fourth round match-up: (13) Sloane Stephens vs. (4) Elina Svitolina
This is an interesting section with 2017 Roland Garros champion Jeļena Ostapenko facing a tough first round match-up against 2010 Roland Garros champion Francesca Schiavone, who is really in the twilight of her career, and then possibly a difficult third round encounter with either the in-form Aleksandra Krunić or Estonian player Anett Kontaveit.
However, you still think Ostapenko will make the round of 16, where she will likely meet American CoCo Vandeweghe, who had a breakout year in 2017, making the semi-finals at Melbourne Park and Flushing Meadows, as well as the quarter-finals at the All England Club, but she will face tough opposition from Spaniard Carla Suárez Navarro in the second round, then either 2014 Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulková or 2011 US Open champion Samantha Stosur in the third round before she can get to Ostapenko.
My predicted fourth round match-up: (7) Jeļena Ostapenko vs. (10) CoCo Vandeweghe
In the final section of the draw, Danish superstar Caroline Wozniacki is comfortably the strongest player with only four-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova capable of challenging her.
The big question is whether Wozniacki can make her third Grand Slam final, and be able to do what she hasn’t achieved before, and that is win a Grand Slam singles title?
Time will tell if she can finally achieve her dream after so many years of trying!
My predicted fourth round match-up: (15) Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs. (2) Caroline Wozniacki
My predicted quarter-final match-ups
(27) Petra Kvitová vs. (6) Karolína Plíšková
(21) Angelique Kerber vs. (17) Madison Keys
Belinda Bencic vs. (4) Elina Svitolina
(10) CoCo Vandeweghe vs. (2) Caroline Wozniacki
My predicted semi-final match-ups
(27) Petra Kvitová vs. (17) Madison Keys
(4) Elina Svitolina vs. (2) Caroline Wozniacki
My predicted final match-ups
(17) Madison Keys vs. (4) Elina Svitolina
My predicted 2018 Australian Open champion
(4) Elina Svitolina