Will Serena Williams triumphantly return to her last Grand Slam victory, can Caroline Wozniacki defend her crown, or is Naomi Osaka able to play Majesties in a row?
AFP Sport selects five women to be seen when starting the Australian Open on Monday in Melbourne
The Dane finally broke her Grand Slam Hoodoo 12 months ago after 12 years of trying in Melbourne. She is determined to prove that she remains a leader after dropping the bomb that she suffers from rheumatoid arthritis.
Wozniacki, 28, says the debilitating autoimmune condition is so bad that on some days, “I wake up and can not lift my hands over my head.” The shock diagnosis came after Wozniacki returned to first place and brought her WTA Tour titles to 30th place not only in Melbourne, but also in Eastbourne and Beijing.
She comes in third and believes she can control her condition. “I felt good, I learned how to handle the games.”
The Romanian was able to hold its own against Wozniacki in an epic final in Melbourne 12 months ago. She claimed her own first slam at Roland Garros and climbed back to first place, even though the 27-year-old had missed the WTA final in Singapore.
Halep has retired after longstanding Australian mentor Darren Cahill for family reasons and described the year 2018 as “very emotional”, but insisted that she had become mentally stronger. “If you have a target on your back, it’s not easy because everyone wants to show their best against you and beat you,” she said. “But being number one is something you should embrace and be proud of.”
The Wimbledon champion and number two in the world will be 31 on January 18, and will be under new coach Rainer Schuttler, who reached the final of the 2003 Australian Open, losing to Andre Agassi.
Schuttler will make the game of the Australian Open 2016 even more “daring”, said Barbara Rittner of the German Tennis Association, which helped develop Kerber as a teenager.
“In general, it’s about their offensive game,” Rittner said the German wave of three-time Grand Slam champion, who had lost in the final set against Melbourne in Halep last year, a painful, breathless semi-finals. “She’s incredibly good at volleyball – in this more aggressive, braver game, I’m sure they’ll work on it.”
The popular US Open triumph of the 21-year-olds was overshadowed by Serena Williams’ final at Flushing Meadows. Osaka has the opportunity to show in Melbourne that it can withstand the spotlight of the new standard in Japan, Asia and Asia the next generation of women.
She arrives as the second favorite with the bookies behind Williams and seems unimpressed by her stratospheric rise as well as the prospect of the tremendous support she received at the Australian Open, often referred to as the Asia-Pacific Grand Slam. “I never feel under pressure, I like Grand Slams the most,” she said. “There is some pressure, but it is mine.”
xAlthough out of the top 10, few were brave enough to break Williams out of the equation as she wanted to reach Margaret Court’s record with 24 Grand Slam singles titles. The 37-year-old has won seven times at Melbourne Park, most recently on her last visit in 2017, when she was eight weeks pregnant with her daughter Alexis Olympia.
It has already been installed as a low-priced favorite, and the odds are confident that it will not repeat its notorious US Open finals, naming referee Ram Ramos “a thief” and receiving three code violations to lose a match derail their challenge.
Williams missed out on the opportunity to reach the record in both the Wimbledon and US Open finals last season and says she now avoids focusing on the numbers. “It really makes me exciting what lies ahead in 2019,” she said. “I always have crazy big goals, but I like to think of them as my own, and I think if I keep them a bit secret, I can do my best.”