The withdrawal of defending champion and seven-time winner Serena Williams has opened up the women's draw at the Australian Open. With seven of the top-10 players yet to have won a Grand Slam, the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup might see a new winner this time around.
Here we look at the contenders for the women's singles title at the Australian Open.
Last five appearances at Australian Open: 2017-R1, 2016-R1, 2015-QF, 2014-QF, 2013-R1.
The World No 1 has fallen in the first round at Melbourne Park for the past two years but she has hit the ground running in 2018. Halep said she had enjoyed "as good a pre-season as she could remember" as she swept to both singles and doubles titles at the Shenzhen Open last week. An aggressive baseliner, the 26-year-old Romanian won in Madrid, Bucharest and Montreal last season and reached four other finals including the French Open, where she lost an epic three-setter to Jelena Ostapenko. Halep has to overcome her reputation for folding at critical moments in big matches, but she may never have a better chance to get off the mark.
Last five appearances at Australian Open: 2017-R3, 2016-R1, 2015-R2, 2014-R3, 2013-R4.
After having to deny retirement rumours just over a year ago, the Dane comes to Melbourne with her eye on regaining the top world ranking six years after she last held it. The 27-year-old closed 2017 with a first career victory over Venus Williams at the WTA Tour finals in Singapore and opened 2018 with a run to the final in Auckland. She reached six finals last year before finally getting over the winning line in Tokyo in September, and has hardly missed a beat since. In Singapore, she reeled off wins over Elina Svitolina, Halep and Karolina Pliskova and has risen from 19th to second in the world in 12 months.
Last five appearances at Australian Open: 2017-QF, 2016-R3, 2015-R4, 2014-R4, 2013-R2.
Muguruza is coming off one her best seasons, where she backed up her first major at the French Open in 2016 with a second major title at Wimbledon in 2017. She beat Venus Williams in straight sets to become the first player to defeat both Williams sisters in major singles finals after getting the better of Serena in the French Open final in 2016. She became World No 1 at the US Open despite losing in the fourth round but held it for only four weeks with Halep taking over. She was forced to retire due to cramps in her first match of the year at the Brisbane International. She accepted a wildcard at the Sydney International but withdrew ahead of her quarter-final match with a right thigh injury.
Last five appearances at Australian Open: 2017-R3, 2016-R2, 2015-R3, 2014-R3, 2013-R1.
Svitolina enjoyed her best year on tour in 2017, winning five WTA titles — more than any other woman — at Taiwan, Dubai, Istanbul, Rome and Toronto, and rising to a career-high No 3 in the world by September. In Toronto, the 23-year-old demolished Venus, Muguruza, Halep and Wozniacki, proving she can put together a sustained run against the best. She swept aside a quality field in Brisbane last week with victories over Johanna Konta and Pliskova en route to the title and a world ranking of four.
Last five appearances at Australian Open: 2017-F, 2016-R1, 2015-QF, 2014-R1, 2013-R3.
Venus didn't win a tournament last year but led the WTA in prize money and there was quality in some of her major defeats. She started off with a loss to her sister Serena in the Australian Open final and later lost in the Wimbledon title match to Muguruza. She advanced to the semi-finals at the US Open losing to eventual champion Sloane Stephens and then finished off the year with a loss in the WTA Finals to Wozniacki. She started 2017 ranked No 17 and moved up to No 5 by the end. Venus lost her first match at the Sydney International, her only tuneup tournament.
Last five appearances at Australian Open: 2017-QF, 2016-R3, 2015-R3, 2014-R2, 2013-R1.
The tall, tattooed 25-year-old, whose identical twin Kristyna will also be playing at Melbourne, rose to World No 1 in July last year following victories in Brisbane, Doha and Eastbourne. Pliskova reached the Australian Open quarter-finals in 2017 when seeded five and is looking to go further this time around. Her biggest weapon is her serve — she was the ace leader on the WTA Tour last year, powering down 452 first service winners in 69 matches. In top form, Pliskova, ranked six, will be hard to beat and she enjoyed a good warm-up in Brisbane last week, losing in the semi-final to Svitolina.
Last five appearances at Australian Open: 2017-R3, 2016-R1, 2015-DNP, 2014-DNP, 2013-DNP.
Ostapenko became the first Latvian to win a Grand Slam when she won the French Open last year. The 20-year-old also became the first unseeded woman in 84 years to win the title at Roland Garros. At Wimbledon, Ostapenko beat Svitolina on her way to the quarter-final where she lost to Venus. The Latvian broke into the top-10 after reaching the third round of the US Open. She won her first WTA title at Seoul when she won the Korea Open and ended her year with a round robin exit at the WTA finals. Ostapenko began her year by beating Serena at an exhibition match in Abu Dhabi but she followed it up with first-round exits at the Shenzhen Open and the Sydney International.
Last five appearances at Australian Open: 2017-QF, 2016-SF, 2015-DNP, 2014-DNP, 2013-DNP.
The Australian-born Briton became one of the stories of Melbourne Park in 2016 after beating Venus in the first round and reaching the semis, where she lost to eventual champion Angelique Kerber. Konta lost in the last eight in 2017 to Serena, who also went on to lift the title. Konta also reached last year's Wimbledon semis but she then endured a slump in form with niggling injuries and dropped from a career-high fourth in the world to her current ninth. She loves playing in Australia and won in Sydney 12 months ago, although she lost in the first round there this week.
Last five appearances at Australian Open: 2017-R4, 2016-W, 2015 -R1, 2014-R4, 2013-R4.
Kerber is one of the only two players in the women's field to have won the Australian Open before (Maria Sharapova is the other). Kerber is currently ranked 22nd in the world after a disappointing 2017 campaign, but she has started off 2018 on a positive note. Kerber registered her ninth straight win at Sydney to win the title, her first since US Open 2016. Kerber parted ways with her old coach Torben Beltz at the end of the 2017 season and is now working with Wim Fissette. Kerber is hitting winners off her forehand again, and going by her current form, she will be a strong contender for the Australian Open title.
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: Jan 13, 2018 19:34:37 IST