The 2018 Australian Open gets underway tomorrow and on the women’s side, the draw is wide open. As was the case in 2017, there are at least 10 players capable of winning the tournament. My predictions for all four Grand Slams last year turned out pretty badly, with only one out of eight finalists correctly guessed. I hope 2018 turns out better.
Caroline Wozniacki: seeded second, her highest Grand Slam seeding for years, Wozniacki has a great draw, with the exception of her on-fire first round opponent, Mihaela Buzarnescu. Since July last year, the Romanian has won 7 ITF titles, reached her first WTA final in Hobart and improved her ranking from 374 to 44. However, Wozniacki beat Buzarnescu easily in the US Open first round in 2017 and I think she will win again here. While potential third and fourth round opponents CiCi Bellis and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova could challenge the Dane, she has it much easier than other top ranked players, and has a great shot of getting to at least the quarter finals.
Elina Svitolina: the fourth-seeded Ukrainian is yet to turn her WTA Tour proficiency into Grand Slam success, but has an excellent opportunity for a deep run this time round. While Katerina Siniakova could provide a tough test in the second round, it would be disappointing if Svitolina failed to make the quarter finals. In fact, I’m predicting that she’ll go further than that…
Johanna Konta: a semi finalist in 2016 and quarter finalist in 2017, the Australian Open is the ninth seed’s best Grand Slam. While she could face difficult opposition from the likes of Karolina Pliskova and Simona Halep from the fourth round onwards, she should breeze through the first two rounds, while her projected third round opponent, Barbora Strycova, struggled with injury last week in Sydney. I would also back Konta to beat Pliskova and make another quarter final.
Venus Williams/Belinda Bencic: last year’s runner-up has a nightmare first round draw against the in-form Swiss, who, after a couple of injury-tarnished seasons, has rediscovered her very best form. I would have backed both players to reach at least the last 16 if they had not been drawn against one another. The winner has potentially tricky third and fourth round ties against Ekaterina Makarova, who has an excellent Australian Open record, and Julia Goerges, who has won three consecutive WTA finals and is unbeaten since Beijing last year. If they make it past these two, they should face Elina Svitolina in the quarter finals.
Maria Sharapova: in only her second Grand Slam since her return from her doping suspension, Sharapova has a nightmare of a draw to contend with. A rematch of her US Open defeat to Anastasija Sevastova should take place in round two, while Angelique Kerber, back to her best after a horrible 2017, should await in round three. If that wasn’t bad enough, Garbiñe Muguruza is her projected fourth round opponent. Sharapova will have to be back to her best if she’s to go deep in this year’s tournament.
Simona Halep: the world number one has struggled in recent years at the Australian Open, losing in the first round in 2016 and 2017. While she should come through her opening two rounds unscathed, Petra Kvitova could be her third round opponent, with Ash Barty, Jo Konta or Karolina Pliskova being potential opponents before the semi finals.
Matches to look forward to:
Pick of 1st round: Venus Williams vs Belinda Bencic: hopefully a classic. I expect the winner to go as far as the last eight.
Pick of 2nd round: Maria Sharapova vs Anastasija Sevastova: a repeat of their US Open clash. I’d back Sharapova to get revenge this time round.
Pick of 3rd round: Halep vs Kvitova; Muguruza vs Radwanska; Kerber vs Sharapova: take your pick. I’m backing Kvitova, Muguruza and Kerber to come through.
Pick of 4th round: Muguruza vs Kerber/Sharapova: if Muguruza plays Kerber, it will be a rematch of their titanic Wimbledon tussle. Based on their current form, I’d back Kerber to win.
J KONTA (9) bt P KVITOVA (27)
A KERBER (21) bt M KEYS (17)
E SVITOLINA (4) bt B Bencic
D CIBULKOVA (24) bt C WOZNIACKI (2)
A KERBER (21) bt J KONTA (9)
E SVITOLINA (4) bt D CIBULKOVA (24)
A KERBER (21) bt E SVITOLINA (4)
Based on her Hopman Cup and Sydney form, I’m predicting that Angelique Kerber will win her second Australian Open title. I’m backing Elina Svitolina to reach her maiden Grand Slam final. Recent Kerber-Svitolina matches have gone the way of the Ukrainian, but I’d back Kerber given her Grand Slam-winning experience.