2020 Australian Open – Women’s Singles Preview

Heading into the 2020 Australian Open, there is a lot of excitement around women’s tennis, and for a number of reasons!

Can Ashleigh Barty, after winning her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros last year, and the 2019 WTA Finals in Shenzhen, become the first Australian women since Chris O’Neil in 1978 to win the Australian Open?

Can Naomi Osaka defend her Australian Open crown, and become just the fourth woman since the start of 2000 after Jennifer Capriati (2001, 2002), Serena Williams (2009, 2010), and Victoria Azarenka (2012, 2013) to win in consecutive years at Melbourne Park?

Can Simona Halep, after reuniting with coach Darren Cahill, win at a third different Grand Slam in as many years, and go one better than what she did two years ago when she made the final at the 2018 Australian Open, losing in an epic to Caroline Wozniacki?

Can Petra Kvitová back up her amazing and emotional run to the 2019 Australian Open, her first Grand Slam final after coming back from a career-threatening left hand injury suffered while defending herself from an intruder in her home in Czech Republic in late 2016, and win her first Australian Open crown, and her third Grand Slam title overall?

Can Karolína Plíšková win her first Grand Slam title after making the semi-finals at Melbourne Park last year, and making the US Open final back in 2016?

Can Elina Svitolina win her first Grand Slam title after making the semi-finals at Wimbledon and the US Open last year, and Belinda Bencic after making her first Grand Slam semi-final at Flushing Meadows in 2019?

However, the most poignant question heading into the 2020 Australian Open is whether Serena Williams, fresh off winning her 73rd career title, her first as a mother, and her first since the 2017 Australian Open, can at last equal Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam titles in the year Court celebrates her 50th anniversary of completing the calendar year Grand Slam?

So, who will win the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup in 2020?

Here is my analysis of the 2020 Australian Open women’s singles draw!

 

Section One

The World No.1 Barty, who claimed her first professional tournament victory on Australian soil yesterday in Adelaide, should have little issue in reaching the fourth round and the second week of her home Grand Slam where she will meet either Alison Riske, who defeated Barty in the fourth round to reach the quarter-finals at Wimbledon last year, 2018 Wimbledon semi-finalist Julia Görges, or Petra Martić, who made the Roland Garros quarter-finals in 2019, although Barty will need to be wary of Aliaksandra Sasnovich or Elena Rybakina, who won the Hobart International yesterday, in the third round.

However, you cannot see Barty not making the quarter-finals, and if she hits her absolute top form in the second week, it could a golden event at Melbourne Park for Australia!

My predicted fourth round match-up: (1) Ashleigh Barty vs. (13) Petra Martić

 

Section Two

Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitová should have no real issues to reach the fourth round, although she will need to be wary of Ekaterina Alexandrova in the third round, who won her first career title a couple of weeks ago in Shenzhen. However, who Kvitová will meet in the fourth round is up for debate with the 2017 US Open finalist Madison Keys having a tough first round match against Daria Kasatkina, who made the quarter-finals at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon in 2018, before a potential third round with either 2014 US Open semi-finalist Peng Shuai, or Maria Sakkari, who won her first career title last year in Morocco.

However, you sense given the form that she showed in Brisbane, especially in defeating Kvitová in the semi-finals, that she will get through to the fourth round for a re-match with last year’s Australian Open finalist. However, can Keys, a semi-finalist at Melbourne Park in 2015, make a really deep run into the second week of a Grand Slam and reach her full potential in 2020? Staying fit and motivated will be the key for her!

My predicted fourth round match-up: (10) Madison Keys vs. (7) Petra Kvitová

 

Section Three

Defending champion Osaka has a deceptively tough draw in front of her with Marie Bouzková who made the semi-finals at the Rogers Cup in Toronto last year, in the first round, Zheng Saisai in the second round, and either seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams, 15 year old American Coco Gauff, who qualified for the main draw at Wimbledon before defeating Venus Williams in the first round and will meet yet again in the first round at the Australian Open, 2009 Roland Garros quarter-finalist Sorana Cîrstea, or 2019 Wimbledon semi-finalist Barbora Strýcová, who failed to make it beyond the first round at her other three Grand Slam main draw appearances in 2019. This is before meeting either 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens, 2016 Australian Open quarter-finalist Zhang Shuai, 2011 US Open champion Samantha Stosur, or the highly-talented Sofia Kenin, who won her first three career titles last year, in the fourth round.

Despite how arduous the draw ahead looks for Osaka, you sense she is in strong enough form to overcome all of the challengers in this section to make the quarter-final, and to make a genuine fist of defending her Australian Open crown!

My predicted fourth round match-up: (3) Naomi Osaka vs. (14) Sofia Kenin

 

Section Four

This section features arguably the greatest tennis player (male or female) of all-time in Serena Williams, and the seven-time Australian Open champion shouldn’t have many problems in reaching the fourth round, although she will need to be wary of Wang Qiang in the third round, who of course defeated Barty in the fourth round of last year’s US Open.

This section also features 2018 Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki, who will be retiring from professional tennis after the 2020 Australian Open, and she has a tough run with 19 year old Dayana Yastremska, who made the final in Adelaide and has won three career titles, in the second round, and then three-time Grand Slam semi-finalist Johanna Konta, or 2017 Roland Garros quarter-finalist Caroline Garcia in third round before potentially a final-ever meeting, an emotional occasion with her great friend Serena, which other than winning a second Australian Open title, would be close to the perfect way to say goodbye!

However, back to Serena, can she at last equal Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles at the 2020 Australian Open? Given the form she showed to win in Auckland, she has a very strong chance, but it won’t be easy!

My predicted fourth round match-up: Caroline Wozniacki vs. (8) Serena Williams

 

Section Five

This is one of the tougher sections of the draw, but one where I think the two favoured players in last year’s US Open semi-finalist Belinda Bencic, and 2019 WTA Elite Trophy champion Aryna Sabalenka will make it through to the fourth round. However, Bencic will have to overcome 2017 Roland Garros champion Jeļena Ostapenko in the second round, and Anett Kontaveit in the third round, while Sabalenka has to overcome seven-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist Carla Suárez Navarro in the opening round, 18 year old Iga Świątek in the second round, before meeting either 2019 US Open quarter-finalist Donna Vekić, 2008 Australian Open champion Maria Sharapova, who is the shadow of her former self having lost eight of her last 11 official matches, and hasn’t won consecutive matches since the 2019 Australian Open, or Alizé Cornet in the third round.

My predicted fourth round match-up: (6) Belinda Bencic vs. (11) Aryna Sabalenka

 

Section Six

Two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep has a tough first round against American Jennifer Brady, who defeated Barty in the second round in Brisbane after Brady went through qualifying in Brisbane, and then a potential third round meeting with last year’s Australian Open semi-finalist Danielle Collins. This is before a potential fourth round meeting with either 2019 US Open quarter-finalist Elise Mertens, British player Heather Watson, American youngster CiCi Bellis, who is on the comeback from various injuries, 2013 Wimbledon semi-finalist Kirsten Flipkens, or 2019 Wimbledon quarter-finalist Karolína Muchová.

However, given that Halep has lost in the first round in four of her nine previous Australian Open main draw appearances, and given the fact that Halep hasn’t gone through consecutive calendar years without losing in the first round of a Grand Slam event, it wouldn’t be a complete surprise if she were to go out before the business end of the tournament.

My predicted fourth round match-up: (16) Elise Mertens vs. (26) Danielle Collins

 

Section Seven

This is a complex section of the draw, but a section where you feel both Elina Svitolina, a quarter-finalist at Melbourne Park for the last two years, and 2016 Roland Garros semi-finalist Kiki Bertens should make it through to meet each other in the fourth round. However, Svitolina will need to beat either two-time Grand Slam champion Garbiñe Muguruza, or 2018 US Open semi-finalist Anastasija Sevastova in the third round, both match-ups not an easy task, while Bertens will have to face 18 year old American Amanda Anisimova, who of course made the semi-finals at Roland Garros last year, but will be playing her first Grand Slam tournament since Wimbledon last year after the tragic passing of her father Konstantin a week before last year’s US Open.

My predicted fourth round match-up: (5) Elina Svitolina vs. (9) Kiki Bertens

 

Section Eight

Last year’s Australian Open semi-finalist Karolína Plíšková has a brutal draw with two-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist Kristina Mladenovic in the first round, a player who has great recent memories of Australia after being the player of the 2019 Fed Cup Final in Perth to help France to their first Fed Cup win since 2003, and their third overall. Plíšková then has 2017 Australian Open semi-finalist and wildcard CoCo Vandeweghe in the second round, five-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the third round before meeting fellow countrywoman and 2019 Roland Garros finalist Markéta Vondroušová, who is on the comeback from a wrist injury that kept her out for the back half of 2019 since Wimbledon, or 2016 Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber, who suffered a back injury in Adelaide, in the fourth round.

Vondroušová, before a potential match-up with her fellow Czech in the fourth round, will need to defeat two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the opening round, 2018 Wimbledon quarter-finalist Camila Giorgi, and Kerber in the third round.

However, the focus is on Plíšková, and if she gets through to the second week, she has her best chance of breaking through for her first Grand Slam title!

My predicted fourth round match-up: (15) Markéta Vondroušová vs. (2) Karolína Plíšková

 

My predicted quarter-final match-ups

(1) Ashleigh Barty vs. (10) Madison Keys

(3) Naomi Osaka vs. (8) Serena Williams

(11) Aryna Sabalenka vs. (26) Danielle Collins

(5) Elina Svitolina vs. (2) Karolína Plíšková

 

My predicted semi-final match-ups

(1) Ashleigh Barty vs. (3) Naomi Osaka

(11) Aryna Sabalenka vs. (2) Karolína Plíšková

 

My predicted final match-up

(1) Ashleigh Barty vs. (2) Karolína Plíšková

 

2020 Australian Open women’s singles champion

(1) Ashleigh Barty

The Masters – 2018 Preview

It is Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, and a tradition unlike any other is about to commence once again! It is the first major of 2018, and the fight for The Green Jacket will be intense as the world’s best, and some of the greatest of all-time attempt to win The Masters.

Coming into Augusta, there has been one player who has been creating all of the major headlines thanks to his wonderful comeback after his tremendous struggles with a back injury, and that man is of course the four-time Masters champion Tiger Woods.

The 14-time major champion since his return at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas in December last year has only missed the cut once, and has had three top 10 finishes from his six events on his return from injury, including at the Hero World Challenge (Tied for ninth), and at his last two events coming into The Masters at the Valspar Championship (Tied for second behind Paul Casey), and at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard (Tied for fifth behind Rory McIlroy).

Overall, Woods has played in just nine events over the past 24 months, and while he may be ranked 103rd in the world, based on the points he has garnered in those nine events, he is very much playing like a Top 10 player, there is no doubt about that! However, if Woods were to claim The Masters this week for the fifth time, not only would he become the lowest-ranked player to win at Augusta National, it would also be his first major since the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines, which he of course won in that 18-hole playoff with Rocco Mediate (which then went to a sudden-death playoff) while battling a knee injury, which he was forced to miss the rest of 2008 season because of that.

And, considering what Tiger Woods has been through over recent years, if he were to claim his 15th major crown, it would rank as one of the greatest sporting achievements of all-time!

However, there are plenty of others who are willing to contend for the title of being a Masters champion, including World No.1 and 2016 US Open champion Dustin Johnson, who of course missed The Masters last year due to a back injury suffered by falling down a staircase at his rental home near Augusta; World No.2 and the winner of the 2017 PGA Championship Justin Thomas; World No.3 Jon Rahm, who won the Farmers Insurance Open in 2017, which was his first professional victory, to announce himself to the golfing world as a future star; World No.4 and three-time major champion Jordan Spieth, who of course won The Masters in 2015; 2013 US Open champion, and 2016 Olympic gold medallist Justin Rose; Hideki Matsuyama, who won the WGC -HSBC Champions in 2016, and the WGC – Bridgestone Invitational in 2017; four-time major champion Rory McIlroy; World No.8 Rickie Fowler, who won THE PLAYERS Championship in 2015, and defending Masters champion Sergio Garcia.

However, recent history is against the likes of Johnson, Thomas, Rahm, Spieth, Rose, Matsuyama, McIlroy, Fowler, and Garcia, who are all ranked inside the world’s Top 10, as eight of the last 11 Masters tournaments have been won by a player ranked outside the world’s top 10, including three of the last four, and the last two. The last four of those eight who won The Masters while ranked outside of the world’s top 10 were ranked inside the Top 20, with the last three ranked 12th or higher.

So, if you are looking for outside contenders to win The Green Jacket, you would be looking at the likes of Jason Day, who won the PGA Championship in 2015; World No.12 Tommy Fleetwood, who has won in Abu Dhabi for the last two years (2017, 2018), and is slowly rising up the rankings, as well as World No.13 Paul Casey, who won the BMW PGA Championship in 2009; World No.15 Alex Noren, who won the BMW PGA Championship in 2017: three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson, and two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson.

Overall, when I look at all of the contenders, the one that stands out is Justin Thomas, who had a breakout year in 2017, winning five times, and has already won The Honda Classic in 2018, finishing inside the top 10 in his last four events, and in my opinion is the one to beat at Augusta National.