A new year springs a new beginning, for 128 players beginning their quest for the first Grand Slam singles title up for grabs in 2017 at the Australian Open. There are many storylines heading into this year's Australian Open. Will Angelique Kerber, the top seed and defending champion retain the title? Will Serena Williams claim her 23rd Grand Slam singles title? Could Garbiñe Muguruza add to her Slam collection? or will the usual suspects Simona Halep and Agnieszka Radwanska breakthrough?, or will someone like Daria Kasatkina shock the world in Melbourne? All will be revealed in the coming days as the Australian Open begins on January 16th.
Last year, 12 seeds fell in round one which was the most at any Grand Slam tournament since the 32 draw-seeding system was introduced at Wimbledon in 2001.
World number one Angelique Kerber will be entering uncharted waters at this year's Australian Open, as the German will be a world number one, top seed and defending champion for the first time at a Grand Slam tournament. Kerber should have little trouble in her first couple of rounds, as the two-time Grand Slam champion begins her campaign against Lesia Tsurenko and a potential second-round meeting with compatriot Carina Witthoft or a qualifier. In the third round, Kerber is projected to face Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu, and Begu is the 27th seed, who upset Kerber in the first round of the Australian Open two years ago. Furthermore, Begu's game is more equipped for clay courts but she is a dangerous threat on hard courts, however, the Romanian has not been on a good run of form as of late, and she is on a five-match losing streak with her last win coming in September at the Wuhan Open. Begu could be one of the first seeds to fall at the Australian Open as she is up against last year's Wimbledon quarterfinalist Yaroslava Shvedova.
Kerber's first test of the tournament could arrive in the fourth round against 15th seed and 2015 US Open finalist Roberta Vinci. The Italian met Kerber in the quarterfinals at Flushing Meadows last year but the German ran out as the winner in straight sets, moreover, Vinci has a tough first round encounter with Coco Vandeweghe, and the American's hard hitting is equipped for hard courts and she could overpower Vinci. However, Daria Kasatkina, the 23rd seed has a projected third round meeting with Vinci, and she could defeat the Italian. Furthermore, Kasatkina has already proved that she can compete with the big players as she upset Kerber in straight sets at the Apia International Sydney, and she was unlucky to lose to French Open champion Garbiñe Muguruza in one of the early candidates of the match of the season in Brisbane. Also lurking in this first section of the draw is Eugenie Bouchard, the Canadian is hitting top form at the right moment, reaching the semifinals in Sydney but fell short to an in-form Johanna Konta, nonetheless, Bouchard is no stranger to reaching the latter rounds in Melbourne as she reached the semifinals in 2014 and quarterfinals in 2015.
For the second consecutive Australian Open, Carla Suárez Navarro is seeded tenth, thanks to the withdrawals of 2015 semifinalist Madison Keys and 2012 semifinalist Petra Kvitova. The Spaniard will have a tough task of reaching the quarterfinals for the third time in her career in Melbourne, as she begins her campaign against Grand Slam giant-killer Jana Cepelova, the Slovakian defeated Simona Halep and Suárez Navarro's compatriot Garbiñe Muguruza at the last two Wimbledons in the first round in 2015 for the former and second round for the latter in 2016. The two-time Australian Open quarterfinalist's projected third round opponent could be last year's quarterfinalist and 20th seed Zhang Shuai. That could be a popcorn match which could go either way.
However, all eyes will be firmly placed on Garbiñe Muguruza in this section of the draw, the seventh seed and French Open champion reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the first time at the Australian Open in 2014 and she backed this up in 2015 losing to eventual champion Serena Williams in three sets. Muguruza begins her quest for her second Grand Slam singles title against Marina Erakovic and a second round meeting with Lauren Davis or Samantha Crawford should see her through into the third round with no problems. However, in the third round, the Spaniard is projected to face Anastasija Sevastova, the 32nd seeded Latvian sent Muguruza packing in the second round of the US Open last year in an error-strewn match.
There are no Australians in this section of the draw but there are a few eye-opening first round matches with two all-American clashes between Alison Riske and Madison Brengle, who are both in top form with both players defeating two players ranked inside the top three with Riske defeating world number three Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarterfinals in Shenzhen, and Brengle coming through Serena Williams in Auckland, both players will fancy their chances on reaching round two.
Should Kerber and Muguruza meet in the quarterfinals, the Spaniard has the upper hand in their rivalry by winning their last four consecutive meetings including two wins at Slams in the third round of the French Open and Wimbledon in 2015.
Quarterfinalist: Angelique Kerber - Garbiñe Muguruza
Semifinalist: Garbiñe Muguruza
First round matches to watch out for: Begu - Shvedova, Kasatkina - Peng, Chirico - Bouchard, Riske - Brengle, Crawford - Davis
Romanian Simona Halep will be hoping that 2017 is finally the year that she can win a Grand Slam singles title. The fourth seed is a two-time quarterfinalist in Melbourne achieving that feat in back-to-back years in 2014 and 2015.
Halep begins her quest for the Australian Open title in a tricky first round encounter with Shelby Rogers. The American reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal on the clay courts at Roland Garros last year and should pose a few problems for Halep but the Romanian should come through that match but do not rule out the upset. Halep's projected third round opponent is 2016 Olympic gold medalist and 29th seed Monica Puig. The Puerto Rican has had a tough start to 2017 by losing to Elina Svitolina in straight sets in Brisbane, and she was due to have a shot at getting her revenge in Sydney, the following week but the Ukranian withdrew. Moreover, Puig competed well against former world number one Caroline Wozniacki but she ultimately lost to the Dane in three sets. Puig begins her Australian Open campaign against Halep's compatriot Patricia Maria Tig, which should be a comfortable first round victory for Puig.
Another fairytale story from last year's French Open was Kiki Bertens, the Dutchwoman upset Kerber in the first round in Paris last year, and she went on to the semifinal, which is a good testament to her, as some players cannot cope with the pressure of taking out a big name, and usually fall in the next round. The 19th seed has a tough first round match with American lefty Varvara Lepchenko.
Bertens' potential third round opponent will be 13th seed Venus Williams, the American reached the final way back in 2003 losing to her sister Serena. However, the elder of the two Williams' sisters last reached the quarterfinals in 2015 losing to compatriot Madison Keys. Nevertheless, Williams at 36 begins her campaign against Ukraine's Kateryna Kozlova, and in the second round, she could face Japan's Kurumi Nara or a qualifier. Halep got the better of Bertens in the third round of Wimbledon last year, however, the prospect of a fourth round meeting between Halep and Williams could be one to watch.
11th seeded Ukranian Elina Svitolina is one of Halep's potential quarterfinal opponents. Svitolina will be full of confidence coming into Melbourne as she registered a three-set victory over world number one Angelique Kerber in the quarterfinals in Brisbane. The Ukranian split up with her coach Iain Hughes at the end of last season, and she certainly has the game to go far at the Australian Open. The 11th seed begins her campaign against Galina Voskoboeva, and in the second round, she could face 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone, who will be competing in Melbourne for the last time as she announced last week that she is going to be retiring from professional tennis at the end of the 2017 WTA season.
Svitolina's projected third round opponent is 24th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, both players are hard-hitters and like to dominate play from the baseline. The Russian recorded a victory over compatriot Svetlana Kuznetsova in Sydney, ending the two-time Slam champion's title defence in the process. The two Russians could meet in the fourth round.
Eighth seed Svetlana Kuznetsova headlines this part of the draw, and she begins her campaign against Colombian Mariana Duque Marino. Kuznetsova has been recording consistent results over the past 12 months which has seen her re-enter the top ten, and she could have a mouthwatering third-round clash with former world number one Jelena Jankovic but 26th seed Laura Siegemund will have something to say about that. Julia Goerges is another German lurking in this draw, and the former world number 15 has reached the fourth round on three occasions, most recently in 2015. Goerges reached the semifinals at the ASB Classic in Auckland, staging a remarkable comeback victory over Caroline Wozniacki in the quarterfinals. She begins her campaign against Katerina Siniakova, who went on to win the title in Shenzhen and she recorded a victory over Johanna Konta, that will be a tough first round match-up for both players.
Quarterfinalist: Simona Halep - Svetlana Kuznetsova
Semifinalist: Simona Halep
First round matches to watch out for: Halep - Rogers, Bertens - Lepchenko, Siegemund - Jankovic, Siniakova - Goerges
Third seed Agnieszka Radwanska is placed in a tough section of the draw. A two-time semifinalist in Melbourne has had a respected start in 2017 by reaching the quarterfinals in Shenzhen, and she reached the final in Sydney losing to an inspired Johanna Konta in straight sets getting completely outplayed.
Last year's US Open finalist Karolina Pliskova returned to the top five of the WTA rankings by winning her first title of the year in Brisbane, displaying scintillating tennis. The fifth seed begins her campaign against Spain's Sara Sorribes Tomo in the first round, however, in the second round, she could have a few problems with Monica Niculescu who's unorthodox style of tennis could trouble the Czech. Moreover, Pliskova will fancy her chances to go beyond the third round in Melbourne for the first time, since she got past the third round barrier in New York, and Pliskova lost to Ekaterina Makarova in 2015 and 2016.
Pliskova's projected third round opponent is 31st seed Yulia Putintseva who gave Serena Williams problems at the French Open last year in the quarterfinals, and there could be a popcorn match with Jelena Ostapenko in the second round. Also lurking in this section of the draw is Australia's Daria Gavrilova. The 22nd-seeded Russian-born Australian advanced to the fourth round for the first time, handing Suárez Navarro a bagel in the opening set but went down in three sets. She has a tricky first round tie with Naomi Broady, and the big-hitting Brit caused Agnieszka Radwanska some serious issues in their meeting at the US Open last year but she was unable to sustain her level of tennis.
12th seed Timea Bacsinszky is Pliskova's projected fourth round opponent. The Swiss number one has struggled as of late but the French Open semifinalist can cause some damage in this section of the draw. However, she has a tricky opener against feisty Italian, Camila Giorgi. Talented Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic is also placed in this section of the draw, and she squares off with Ana Konjuh, a player who reached the quarterfinals at Flushing Meadows last year in the first round.
Elena Vesnina will fancy her chances to reach the fourth round in the sixth section of the draw as she begins her campaign in Melbourne against a qualifier, followed by a second round meeting with Mandy Minella or Magda Linette. In the third round, the 14th seed, who reached the semifinals at SW19 last year, will be projected to face Australia's Sam Stosur in the third round.
Stosur historically has struggled to do well competing in her native country with the fourth round on two occasions in 2006 and 2010 being her best results to show for. Furthermore, the 18th seed begins her campaign against Britain's talented Heather Watson, who will fancy her chances of springing the upset against the 2011 US Open champion.
Vesnina's projected fourth round opponent is third seed Agnieszka Radwanska. The Pole has a tough first round encounter with Tsvetana Pironkova, and the Bulgarian is no stranger to having deep runs at Grand Slams. Pironkova reached the semifinals of Wimbledon in 2010, and the quarterfinals in 2011, and last year she defeated Radwanska in heavy conditions in the fourth round of the French Open last year. Radwanska's draw is tricky as 1999 Wimbledon semifinalist Mirjana Lucic-Baroni could await in the second round with a projected third round meeting with erratic Frenchwoman Alize Cornet.
The 28th seed reached the final in Brisbane losing to Karolina Pliskova, and she begins her campaign against her compatriot Myrtille Georges, who received a wildcard. The Frenchwoman competed against Garbiñe Muguruza in the second round of the French Open and competed well in some spells of the match.
This is a wide open section of the draw but Radwanska's class and history of going far at the Australian Open, should help her get through to the quarterfinals.
Quarterfinalist: Karolina Pliskova - Agnieszka Radwanska
Semifinalist: Karolina Pliskova
First Round matches to watch for: Minella - Linette, Watson - Stosur, Cornet - Georges, Pironkova - A. Radwanska
S. Williams' Quarter
The world number two Serena Williams will be placed in the bottom section of the draw, and the American will be looking to win her 23rd Grand Slam singles title in Melbourne. However, the six-time Australian Open champion has been dealt with a horrific draw. She begins her campaign against Belinda Bencic, the former top ten player has struggled with injuries over the past year but she will pose a difficult threat for Williams, and Bencic defeated Williams in Toronto in 2015. The American could face another former top ten player in the second round, Lucie Safarova, has also struggled with injuries and this could be a rematch of their 2015 French Open final encounter.
Safarova is no stranger to causing upsets in Melbourne as the unseeded Czech upset Amelie Mauresmo in 2007 in the fourth round, who was the reigning champion, since then, Safarova has not reached the quarterfinals. Also lurking in this tricky section of the draw is Safarova's compatriot Barbora Strycova. The 16th seed defeated Caroline Wozniacki in over three hours in the quarterfinals of Sydney last week, however, she eventually lost to Agnieszka Radwanska in the semifinals. The fiery Czech begins her campaign against a qualifier but a mouthwatering second round encounter with Andrea Petkovic could be on the cards.
France's Caroline Garcia will be Strycova's projected third round opponent, and the 21st seed has a blockbuster first round match with Kateryna Bondarenko. The Ukranian reached the quarterfinals of the US Open in 2009, and the third round in Melbourne for the second time last year.
Timea Babos is the final seeded player at 25th in this section of the draw, and the Hungarian contested a high-quality third round match with Simona Halep at the US Open last year. The hard-hitter has a tough first round match with Nicole Gibbs which could be a potential upset brewing there.
This bottom section of the draw is brutal, and in the seventh section of the draw, sixth seed Dominika Cibulkova will be hoping to go one step further this year than she did in 2014 when she reached her first Slam final. The Slovakian has a tricky first round match with Denisa Allertova and Karin Knapp could be a potential second round match, which could be stern tests for the Slovak. However, the real trouble for Cibulkova could occur in the third round against 2015 semifinalist Ekaterina Makarova.
Makarova is the 30th seed this year, and she struggled with injuries last year, however, the Russian is the lowest of the five Russians seeded in Melbourne. Makarova has never lost in the first round of the Australian Open, and the reigning Olympic doubles gold medalist has reached the fourth round or better in her last six consecutive appearances at Melbourne Park.
Johanna Konta, the ninth seed and last year's semifinalist comes into this tournament in a rich vein of form. The British number one was flawless at the Apia International Sydney as she didn't drop a set throughout the tournament, defeating Eugenie Bouchard and Agnieszka Radwanska in the semifinals and final respectively. She begins her quest for her first Slam title against Kirsten Flipkens. The Belgian will pose a threat to Konta but the consistent Brit will have too much for Flipkens.
Naomi Osaka is a potential second round opponent for Konta, and the young talented player from Japan nearly upset Simona Halep at the French Open last year. Moreover, this draw is arguably the toughest section in the women's draw, as former world number one Caroline Wozniacki has done well to get a seeding in Melbourne, following her poor campaign in 2016, a run to the semifinals at the US Open, coupled with two titles at the tail-end of 2016 salvaged some pride for Wozniacki which has made the Dane a genuine contender in Melbourne
Wozniacki, the 17th seed opens proceedings against Russian-born Australian Arina Rodionova, and a second round meeting with Donna Vekic or Australian wildcard Lizette Cabrera could see the Dane into the third round without too many problems but an intriguing projected third round clash between Wozniacki and Konta could be a thriller.
Quarterfinalist: Cibulkova - Serena Williams
Semifinalist: Serena Williams
First Round matches to watch out for: Cibulkova - Allertova, Wozniacki - Rodionova, Flipkens - Konta, Bondarenko - Garcia, Babos - Gibbs, Wickmayer - Safarova, Bencic - S. Williams
Semifinals and Finals prediction
Garbiñe Muguruza defeats Simona Halep
Serena Williams defeats Karolina Pliskova
Final: Garbiñe Muguruza defeats Serena Williams