2018 Australian Open women's singles preview: Wide open draw with defending champion Serena sidelined

With defending champion Serena Williams out and only two former champions in the draw, we could well get a new champion in Melbourne when the action begins on Monday.

2018 Australian Open women's singles preview: Wide open draw with defending champion Serena sidelined
Venus and Serena Williams contested the final last year. Serena will not be in action following the birth of her child (Getty/Scott Barbour)

After weeks of anticipation, the women’s singles draw for the Australian Open is out, with several potentially exciting matches set to take place over the coming two weeks in Melbourne.

The big news heading into the tournament is that defending champion Serena Williams, who won her 23rd Grand Slam title here last year, will not be in action following the birth of her first child four months ago. Her absence means that there are only two former champions in the draw; Angelique Kerber, who won the title two years ago and who has been in good form so far this season, and 2008 champion Maria Sharapova, who will be playing at the tournament for the first time since she failed a drug test in Melbourne back in 2016.

Sharapova won her sole Australian Open title ten years ago (Getty/Mark Dadswell)
Sharapova won her sole Australian Open title ten years ago (Getty/Mark Dadswell)

The top seed is world number one Simona Halep, with it being the first time that the Romanian has been the top seed at a Grand Slam event. Seeded second, Caroline Wozniacki is at her highest Grand Slam seeding in five years, with two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza the third seed and Brisbane International champion Elina Svitolina is seeded fourth for the second consecutive major. 2017 runner-up, Venus Williams is the fifth seed, with Karolina Pliskova seeded sixth, French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko seeded seventh, and Caroline Garcia seeded eighth.

First Quarter

Projected Q/F: (1st) Simona Halep vs (6th) Karolina Pliskova

Yet to win a slam and having lost in the first round at the Australian Open the past two seasons, there is undoubtedly some pressure on Halep this season. An opening round match against Australian wildcard Destanee Aiava should not be too much of a test, and a potential second round against Eugenie Bouchard should also be manageable; however, things may start to get complicated after that. A third round test against 27th seed Petra Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon winner, could be troublesome for her, whilst plenty of dangers lurk further down in her section; home favorite and 18th seed Ashleigh Barty will come in following a good run in Sydney, whilst Camila Giorgi, Naomi Osaka or 16th seed Elena Vesnina may also prove troublesome.

Halep won the title in Shenzhen last week (Getty/Zhong Zhi)
Halep won the title in Shenzhen last week (Getty/Zhong Zhi)

Pliskova heads into Melbourne following a small drop off in form over recent months and is projected to face former Australian Open semifinalist Johanna Konta, seeded ninth, in the fourth round. It is the Czech who has the easier first round match of the two, with Veronica Cepede Royg in her opening match, whilst Konta has a tough task against former giant-killer Madison Brengle, though there are other dangers in this section. 29th seed Lucie Safarova could await the sixth seed in the third round, with Sorana Cirstea and 20th seed Barbora Strycova all capable of being potential factors in this part of the draw; this part also sees Margarita Gasparyan make her first Grand Slam appearance since Wimbledon 2016, following injury trouble.

Prediction: Halep def Pliskova

Second Quarter

Projected Q/F: (3rd) Garbine Muguruza vs (8th) Caroline Garcia

After retiring in Brisbane and withdrawing midway through the tournament in Sydney, there are some doubts about Muguruza heading into the first slam of 2018, though a first round match against wildcard Jessika Ponchet should be a nice way for her to settle in the draw. The Spaniard has a promising draw in the early round, with Su-Wei Hsieh a likely second round opponent and potentially 26th seed Agnieszka Radwanska or Lesia Tsurenko in the third round, though things get tougher after that. Maria Sharapova lurks as a potential fourth round opponent, though the Russian could come up against 14th seed Anastasija Sevastova, who beat her at the US Open in the second round, whilst 21st seed Angelique Kerber is looking very dangerous; the German is yet to lose in 2018 and has a good raw in the opening two rounds.

Kerber won her first Grand Slam at the tournament two years ago (Getty/Handout)
Kerber won her first Grand Slam at the tournament two years ago (Getty/Handout)

Garcia has barely played this year, retiring in her first match in Brisbane, and does not have the easiest draw in the opening few rounds. The eighth seed could come up against Kristina Mladenovic, the 11th seed, and her former doubles partner, in the fourth round, with the latter likely to end her losing streak in the first round against Ana Bogdan. Garcia should see off Carina Witthoeft in the opening round, though could face Marketa Vondrousova in the second round, and then 28th seed Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, a semifinalist last year, or Brisbane finalist Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the third round; all difficult matches, but all match the Frenchwoman should win if she continues her late 2017 form. US Open finalist Madison Keys, the 17th seed, has a good draw in her opening few rounds and could be a factor here also.

Prediction: Kerber def Garcia

Third Quarter

Projected Q/F: (5th) Venus Williams vs (4th) Elina Svitolina

Williams had a stellar 2017 season, which started with her run to the final here, though the American has a very tricky draw this time around. In arguably the pick of the first round matches, she will face the resurgent Belinda Bencic to begin with, and 31st seed Ekaterina Makarova, who tends to play in well in Melbourne, is a potential third round opponent for the winner of that clash. Another contender for the title could await in the fourth round, with 12th seed Julia Goerges heading in following three consecutive WTA Titles. The German will be confident after such a great run and should be comfortable in her first two matches, though 23rd seed Daria Gavrilova or Elise Mertens may provide a test in the third round.

Svitolina won the Brisbane International title heading into the tournament (Getty/Bradley Kanaris)
Svitolina won the Brisbane International title heading into the tournament (Getty/Bradley Kanaris)

Meanwhile, Svitolina heads in following a great week in Brisbane and is one of the favorites for the title, though has only made one Grand Slam quarterfinal before; can the Ukrainian handle the pressure? She should comfortably defeat a qualifier in her opening match, though a likely second round test against Katerina Siniakova may prove tough. 25th seed Peng Shuai could await in the third round, with 13th seed and US Open champion Sloane Stephens set to come up against Svitolina in the fourth round; the American has not won a match since New York, and has an incredibly tricky first round match against Shuai Zhang, with the likes of 22nd seed Daria Kasatkina also a danger in this section.

Prediction: Svitolina def Goerges

Fourth Quarter

Projected Q/F: (7th) Jelena Ostapenko vs (2nd) Caroline Wozniacki

After a huge breakthrough in 2017, Ostapenko has not displayed her best tennis early on in 2018, though has a promising draw early on. The Latvian should start well against fellow Roland Garros winner Francesca Schiavone, though tests could lie not much further on against the likes of 32nd seed Anett Kontaveit or Aleksandra Krunic; both are potential third round opponents for the seventh seed. Another notable name here is tenth seed and 2017 semifinalist Coco Vandeweghe, who played well at the slams last year. The American does not have an easy draw herself, with Timea Babos in the first round and potentially Carla Suarez Navarro after that, though will likely be confident coming in; 24th seed Dominika Cibulkova is also here, with there also being an interesting clash between Samantha Stosur and Monica Puig.

Wozniacki reached the final in Auckland last week (Getty/Anthony Au-Yeung)
Wozniacki reached the final in Auckland last week (Getty/Anthony Au-Yeung)

After an incredibly successful 2017 which culminated in the WTA Finals title, and a final in Auckland this year, Wozniacki is undoubtedly a huge contender here. The second seed should be comfortable in her opening two rounds (she starts against Mihaela Buzarnescu, who she faced at the US Open) though could face her first real test against 30th seed Kiki Bertens or Catherine Bellis in the third round. 15th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, a quarterfinalist in Melbourne last season, could await in the fourth round, though the Russian does not have an easy section of the draw; she starts against the potentially dangerous Kateryna Kozlova, with Kateryna Bondarenko and 19th seed Magdalena Rybarikova both also capable of giving anyone a test.

Prediction: Wozniacki def Vandeweghe

Semifinals

Halep def Kerber

Svitolina def Wozniacki

Final

Svitolina def Halep