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Australian Open 2017: Angelique Kerber, Serena Williams the favourites in unpredictable women's draw

Women’s tennis saw quite the tumultuous season in 2016 – there were two first-time slam winners, Serena Williams won just one major, two big stars missed huge chunks of the season for completely disparate reasons, and a new World No 1 emerged. However, if the start of 2017 is anything to go by, we might be in for an even more unpredictable year.

In Melbourne at the first slam of the year, Serena and Angelique Kerber are the leading favourites, but two Saturdays later, it could be someone else holding the Australian Open trophy. Here’s a preview of the women’s draw and how it could unfold.

Top quarter:

World No 1 Angelique Kerber will be looking to defend her title. AP

World No 1 Angelique Kerber will be looking to defend her title. AP

Top seed Kerber heads into her first Grand Slam as the World No 1 with 2,000 points and the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup to defend. However, there are serious questions hovering over her form, thanks to her 1-2 win-loss record in the new season. One of these defeats was to 19-year-old upcoming star Daria Kasatkina, and Kerber could face the Russian again in the fourth round.

Also lurking in this part of the draw is former top-10 player Eugenie Bouchard. The Canadian is enjoying a revival of sorts after her sophomore slump but has never made it past the third round in Melbourne. With a shot of confidence under her belt, could she spring herself into the second week?

On the other end of this quarter is the other maiden slam winner from 2016 – big-hitter Garbine Muguruza. The Spaniard wrestled some tough wins at Brisbane before eventually retiring in the semi-final due to a thigh injury. If she is 100 percent fit, she could easily book her spot in the last eight. In a potential Kerber vs Muguruza quarter-final clash, it’s the French Open champion who would have the advantage, having won their last four encounters.

First round match to watch out for: Bouchard vs Louisa Chirico

Semi-finalist: Kerber

Second quarter:

Elina Svitolina is seeded 11 and recently defeated the defending champion Angelique Kerber. AFP

Elina Svitolina is seeded 11 and recently defeated the defending champion Angelique Kerber. AFP

Simona Halep headlines this part of the women’s draw and the fourth seed will be aiming to make her first semi-final appearance at the Australian Open. Standing in her path, is American Shelby Rogers in the first round and potentially, comeback kid Ashleigh Barty in the second. Olympic gold-medallist Monica Puig and seven-time major champion Venus Williams could both prove to be a handful for Halep in the next two rounds and given her current indifferent form, it’s difficult to see her emerge as the winner from this quarter.

Ukaraine’s consistently-improving Elina Svitolina is seeded just outside the top 10 but this Australian Open could prove to be a breakthrough slam for her. She has only made the quarter-final of a major once before, but she has the talent and experience to repeat that feat in Melbourne.

Russians Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and eight seed Svetlana Kuznetsova are the possible hurdles in Svitolina’s path, and the former defeated her compatriot just the week before the Australian Open in straight sets at Sydney. Kuznetsova has struggled in the season so far and might be one of the early exits in the tournament. Pavlyuchenkova leads the head-to-head against Svitolina, however given the 11th seed’s recent run of results, which includes a win over Kerber, I believe she’d come out as the winner from that match.

First round match to watch out for: Katerina Siniakova vs Julia Goerges

Semi-finalist: Svitolina

Third quarter:

Karolina Pliskova is in the form of her life, and won the title in Brisbane to start 2017. AFP

Karolina Pliskova is in the form of her life, and won the title in Brisbane to start 2017. AFP

This is where things get really interesting. Third seed Agnieszka Radwanska and fifth seed Karolina Pliskova are the leading seeded players in the third quarter, which is all about the match-ups. Radwanska’s draw appears to be full of landmines that she would be hoping to side-step past. First up is Bulgaria’s Tsvetana Pironkova, who knocked her out of the French Open in 2016. Then, a potential second round against unpredictable giant-slayer Mirjana Lucic-Baroni.

One of Elena Vesnina, Alize Cornet or Samantha Stosur could possibly be waiting for the Pole in the fourth round. And if she manages to reach the quarters, her projected opponent is in-form Pliskova.

A final at US Open last year seems to have done a world of good for Pliskova. The Czech always had her powerful serve and groundstrokes at her disposal, but she has discovered a sense of confidence over the latter half of the last season. She started 2017 by winning Brisbane but was wary of talking up her slam chances and said the draw would be crucial for her chances. She has a losing 1-2 record to Monica Niculescu and 12th seed Timea Bacsinszky in her part of the draw. And to top it all, she’s never defeated Radwanska in seven attempts. However, I predict 2017 to be a massive year for her and a deep run in Melbourne would be the perfect to jump start it.

First round to watch out for: Ana Konjuh vs Kristina Mladenovic

Semi-finalist: Pliskova

Bottom quarter:

Serena Williams bidding for a 23rd Grand Slam crown at the tournament starting in Melbourne on Monday. AFP

Serena Williams bidding for a 23rd Grand Slam crown at the tournament starting in Melbourne on Monday. AFP

Newly-engaged Serena has her eyes set on a historical 23rd Grand Slam title in Melbourne. But the World No 2 will have to be on her toes from the very first round. She hasn’t had the best preparation to the season, losing in the second round at Auckland, which was her first tournament since the US Open last year.

Her opening opponent is former top-10 player Belinda Bencic. The Swiss has fallen down the rankings due to persistent injuries (the latest being a broken toe nail), but she did beat the American the last time she faced off against her. Another former top-10 player, Lucie Safarova, could meet her in the second round.

Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova looms on the other side of the fourth quarter and her path is no bed of roses either. She could face 30th seed Ekaterina Makarova in the third round, who has a knack of doing really well at majors. Sydney champion Johanna Konta or the resurgent Caroline Woniacki are likely to be on the other side of the net for Cibulkova in the fourth round.

Also, keep an eye out for Japan’s Naomi Osaka, who is fast climbing up the rankings. The 19-year-old was named newcomer of the year in 2016 and is a dangerous unseeded opponent.

First round to watch out for: Serena vs Bencic

Semi-finalist: Serena

Updated Date: Jan 14, 2017 19:06 PM

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