The opening Grand Slam of the year takes place for the women over the next fortnight as the leading players in the world make their way to Melbourne for the Australian Open, with each looking to kick 2019 off with a bang.
Caroline Wozniacki had the biggest night of her career in this tournament last year when she landed her only major title to date. She is back to defend the title but plenty of star names will be taking her on.
2018 – Caroline Wozniacki
2017 – Serena Williams
2016 – Angelique Kerber
2015 – Serena Williams
2014 – Li Na
2013 – Victoria Azarenka
2012 – Victoria Azarenka
2011 – Kim Clijsters
2010 – Serena Williams
2009 – Serena Williams
As with the men’s draw, the tournament bracket has already been pre-drawn and everyone in their places to prepare for the event. From the first round until the last ball is hit in this tournament each match will be the best-of-three sets but unlike in previous years should the final set reach 6-6 a champion’s tiebreak will be played with the match winner being the first to 10pts with at least a two point advantage.
Simona Halep is the top player in the world at the present time and she will head up the top quarter this week. She has a new coach now so it will be interesting to see how she encounters that difference. The other seeds in her quarter are Carla Suarez Navarro, Mihaela Buzarnescu, Serena Williams, Daria Kasatkina, Garbine Muguruza, Camila Giorgi and Karolina Pliskova. It goes without saying that this is a loaded quarter!
One unseeded player who stands out in this draw is Venus Williams. She could face her sister in the last 16. Alize Cornet is another relatively household name while much more is expected of Eugenie Bouchard this year. Sam Stosur will have the crowd support and Timea Bacsinszky are also in this quarter. British number one Jo Konta hasn’t been helped with the draw.
The US Open champion Naomi Osaka is the headline seed in the second quarter of the draw. The Japanese star will be looking for successive slams after her outstanding New York success. Su-Wei Hsieh, Qiang Wang, Anastasija Sevastova, Elise Mertens, Madison Keys, Dominika Cibulkova and Elina Svitolina are the other seeds looking to knock off the Japanese queen.
In fairness the unseeded players in this part of the draw don’t look to be up to much with Mona Barthel about the most recognisable of them with the obvious exceptions of Victoria Azarenka and Daria Gavrilova, who will now lack for home support. Osaka might have a nice draw here.
It is the third quarter where the defending champion Caroline Wozniacki is housed and she will attempt to be the first person since Azarenka to defend the title successfully. Petra Kvitova is seeded to be her biggest challenger after her win in Sydney last week. Maria Sharapova might have a thing or two to say about that though while former French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko is also seeded in this quarter. Ash Barty is another seed here with Aryna Sabalenka, Legia Tsurenko and Barbora Strycova the other seeded players.
Belinda Bencic, Magdalena Rybarikova and Andrea Petkovic set the standard in the unseeded players in this part of the draw. Ekaterina Makarova, Alison Van Uytvanck and Maria Sakkari will all be hoping to do a bit of damage throughout this section of the draw as well.
This is the part of the draw where the Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber is sat. She will face significant competition from former US Open winner and French Open finalist Sloane Stephens if she is to come out of this section. Donna Vekic, Caroline Garcia, Julia Goerges, Kiki Bertens, Anett Kontaveit and Petra Martic are the other seeded players who won’t want to be forgotten about.
Timea Babos is a relative household name in this section of the draw, as is Kirsten Flipkens while British eyes will be on this quarter as well as Heather Watson is housed within it. Olympic champion Monica Puig, Dani Collins and Kiki Mladenovic can all scare a few in this quarter as well.
My outright bets centre on the last two winners of the US Open. I think Naomi Osaka could go on and have a special career and if she wins this tournament she will certainly have laid the foundations for it. Osaka might have to prepare for a tough semi-final but the way she took Serena Williams to the cleaners in front of a raucous New York crowd suggests nobody will trouble her if she plays well. When you factor in only one of Halep, Serena, Venus, Pliskova and Muguruza are going to make the semi-final the 14/1 on Osaka looks massive.
Sloane Stephens hasn’t really kicked on in the way I expected her to when she won the US Open but she did make the French Open final last year and I’m expecting big things of her in this fortnight. She could have a right humdinger with Angelique Kerber in the quarter final but I don’t see a huge amount to stop her before then and when she gets to that stage of the tournament she should be in pretty decent nick. To be fair you could make a case for a few in the bottom half of the draw but the value in my eyes lies with the American.
I’m leaving that top quarter well alone because it is a tournament in itself and I don’t think many would be surprised at whoever came through there but the third quarter looks much more wide open with doubts over Caroline Wozniacki with her illness and Petra Kvitova never liking the intense heat here, and that is the part of the draw I’ll target for a quarter bet.
Ash Barty could be the one to take advantage of those doubts. She lost to Kvitova in the final in Sydney at the weekend but this tournament and that one are different challenges completely. Barty certainly won’t lack for support here and the conditions shouldn’t rob her of a chance of coming through either. Her section is competitive on paper but this tournament more than any other opens up so I’m taking her form to see her go deep here.
WON – Back N.Osaka to win Australian Open (e/w) for a 2/10 stake at 15.00 with Bet365 (1/2 1-2)
Back S.Stephens to win Australian Open (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 26.00 with Betfair (1/2 1-2)
Back her here:
Back A.Barty to win 3rd Quarter for a 3/10 stake at 5.50 with Boylesports
Back her here: