Australian Open 2020: Women’s Singles Preview & Predictions

As we enter the new decade, the tour enters a new narrative.

In the 2010s, we predominantly saw Serena emerge as, (in)arguably, the Greatest of All Time. However, at the tail end of 2019, we saw a trio of young players emerge as Grand Slam champions and spark rivalries that have the potential to command our attention for the next ten years.

Will these three youngsters, Ash Barty, Naomi Osaka, and Bianca Andreescu, silence the old guard. Or, will tour veterans, like Serena, Simona, and Petra, add to the legacy of their already distinguished careers. Or, to further complicate things, will the “middle-generation”, which includes Karolina Pliskova, Elina Svitolina, and Kiki Bertens, elevate their established careers to Grand Slam heights.

Whatever happens, the tone of the next decade could be set in the coming fortnight.

Ashleigh Barty Adelaide Champion 2020

FIRST QUARTER

Last year, Ash Barty entered the Australian Open as the fifteenth seed on the heels of an excruciating loss to Petra Kvitova in the final of the Sydney International. It was the second year in a row in which the young Aussie came painfully close to claiming a title on home soil, only to fall at the last hurdle. Shaking off the disappointment, Barty went on to reach the quarterfinals, scoring a signature win of Maria Sharapova in the process.

The win propelled the young Aussie throughout the rest of the year, going on to claim the Miami Open, Roland Garros, and World No. 1 ranking in the coming months.

Whereas other players have crumbled from the pressure that comes with “World No. 1” attached to your name, Barty’s relaxed and composed demeanor has never let the moment get the best of her. She was cool-as-a-cucumber while claiming the WTA Finals trophy in Shenzhen and the largest payout in tennis history ($10M USD).

Melbourne hasn’t had a home-sprung champion since Chris O’Neil claimed the trophy at the dawn of the Open era. Since then, few Aussies have thrived under the raucous spotlight that the home crowd casts upon its local heroes. However, something feels different about Barty. Exhuming the carefree ethos that typifies the land Down Under, Barty seems prepared to go all the way this year.

She enters this year’s championships as World No.1 and on the heels of hoisting the trophy in Adelaide–vanquishing the demons that have haunted her for the past two seasons.

Furthermore, her draw doesn’t seem to pose many threats. She opens against Lesia Tsurenko, whose form seems to have cooled off significantly after reaching a career-high ranking of No. 23 last year. In Round Three, she could face Polona Hercog, whose inspired 2019 came to a demoralizing halt after losing to Coco Gauff at Wimbledon– a match watched all around the world.

The primary contender in Barty’s half of the quarter is Alison Riske, who seems to be continuing the momentum she generated in the second half of last year. In recent years, the courts of Melbourne have been some of the fastest on the tour. Furthermore, the higher bounce that Plexicushion offers places the ball in the strike-zone of flat-hitters like Riske. In short, with risk comes reward, so don’t count Riske out.

In the bottom half of this quarter sits last year’s finalist, Petra Kvitova. In the first round, she is slated to face former Doubles No. 1, Katerina Siniakova. Given Petra’s impeccable record versus countrywomen, that should be a fairly straightforward task.

The steepest competition the Czech lefty could face is Madison Keys, who enters this year’s tournament hot off the heels of a finals appearance in Brisbane. The American opens against Daria Kasatkina and could face Maria Sakkari in round three, however, Madison seems so thrive under the conditions of playing in a Slam, reaching at least the fourth round in eleven of her past fifteen Grand Slam appearances.

Semifinalist Prediction: Ash Barty

Serena Williams Melbourne 2019 2020 Auckland Champion

Second Quarter

Without a doubt, this quarter is the marquee section of the draw.

In the top half of the quarter, we’ve got last year’s champion, Naomi Osaka, Venus Williams, and Coco Gauff. It’s the first-round match between the latter two names that’s left the tennis community speechless.

Coco’s win over the elder Williams at Wimbledon last year launched the teenager into stardom. Since that signature win, Coco-mania hasn’t subsided.

Venus enters this year’s tournament rehabbing an injury and short on match play, having not won a match since September last year. Furthermore, she sits on the cusp of missing Olympic qualification, an event in which she’s openly declared as one of her incentives to continue to compete as she approaches 40.

However, given the history & circumstances, Coco certainly enters the match bearing the burden of expectation. She won once, but was it a fluke?

Continuing the tradition of coincidences, if Coco were to win this match, her projected third-round opponent would be Naomi Osaka–a rematch of their third-round US Open match last year. Will Coco be able to improve upon the 6-3, 6-0 lesson Naomi had to teach? Will we receive another iconic & heartfelt moment between the two?

Compared to Coco, the road for Serena Williams, who sit in the other half of this quarter, is far less treacherous. She opens against the fiery Russian, Anastasia Potapova, which should be a more than manageable matchup for her. In the fourth round, she could potentially face good friend (and recent double’s partner), Caroline Wozniacki, who is playing the final tournament of her professional career.

Unfortunately for the Dane, it remains questionable as to whether she will be able to make it that far. In round two, she is slated to face Diana Yastremska, who arrives hot on the heels of reaching the final in Adelaide. Furthermore, she enters 2020 with a new coach, Sacha Bajin, who coach Naomi Osaka to the title last year and who previously served as Wozniacki’s hitting partner.

If she were to solve that riddle, she could face Johana Konta in round three. Konta has been on a Grand Slam tear as of late, reaching at least the quarterfinals of the past three majors. In fact, the Australian Open has been Konta’s most successful Slam, being the site of her Grand Slam breakthrough in 2016. The British No. 1 owns a 73% match-win percentage at the event.

Semifinalist Prediction: Serena Williams

ozhalep

Third Quarter

When will Simona Halep be dealt an easy draw in Oz? In 2018, she battled Bouchard, Osaka, Kerber, and Pliskova en route to the final, before sputtering out just in front of the finish line against Wozniacki. Last year, she faced Kanepi, Kenin, and the Sisters Williams back-to-back-to-back-to-back.

This year, she returns to Melbourne with Darren Cahill at her side and she would love nothing more than to raise his home Slam’s trophy in his honor. However, yet again, her draw looks difficult.

She opens against Jennifer Brady, who pushed her to the limit at the Rogers Cup last year and who seems to be playing some inspired tennis after enlisting the help Julia Goerges’ former coach. However, the biggest threat in her section is Danielle Collins, last year’s surprise semifinalist who has already compiled a 6-2 record to start the year (which includes two Top 10 wins). This week, she came within points of defeating World No. 1 Ash Barty in the Adelaide semifinals, losing 7-6 (5) in the third-set breaker.

In the other half of this quarter sits Belinda Bencic, who owns a 3-3 record versus the Romanian, and Aryna Sabalenka, who demolished Simona 6-4, 6-2 just this week in Adelaide.

The latter player is playing with a renewed vigor, following the unexpected passing of her father during the off-season. Faced with the decision to stay at home or leave for training, the young Belarussian decided to leave because it’s what her dad would have wanted her to do.

While many expected big things for Sabalenka in 2019, she failed to make a dent until the Asian Swing, hoisting the trophies in Wuhan & Zhuhai. The ruthless youngster is nye impossible to stop when she’s on a streak; the question is if she can carry that momentum into the second week of a Slam.

Semifinalist Prediction: Sabalenka

Karolina Pliskova Birsband 2020 Champion

Fourth Quarter

In this quarter lie the “middle-generation” of players, previously mentioned. It is helmed by World No. 2, Karolina Pliskova, and on the opposite end of the spectrum sits Elina Svitolina.

Karolina recently defended her title in Brisbane (a first for the Czech) and en route brought an end to Naomi Osaka’s 14-match win-streak (saving match point in the process, no less). While the Czech is famous for her stone-cold gaze, however, underneath that calm demeanor she often battles with nerves during tense matches.

Unfortunately for her, her draw is extremely difficult–perhaps the most difficult of any player in the tournament. If she’s still feeling nervous, even with new coach Dani Vallverdu by her side, any of the players that she’s slated to face are more than capable of exploiting those emotions.

First off, she opens against Kristina Mladenovic, who loves nothing more than to spoil a party. In round two she faces the winner of Coco Vandeweghe (who blew her off the court at the 2017 US Open) or Laura Siegmund, who appears back-on-track after a nasty knee injury derailed her momentum in 2018.

Beyond, she could face Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who appears revitalized under the tutelage of Sam Sumyk, Jessica Pegula, who recently reached the Auckland final under new coach David Witt, or Taylor Townsend, the Auckland doubles champion with a trademark serve-and-volley game-style.

Also sitting in Pliskova’s way are Angelique Kerber (who retired in Adelaide with a back-injury) and Market Vondrousova, who returns to tour after undergoing wrist surgery last Summer.

Conversely, Elina Svitolina’s path to the quarterfinals is much easier. She opens against Katie Boutler, who is using a Protected Ranking to enter this tournament following a back injury, which relegated her to the sidelines for much of last season. However, Svitolina doesn’t enter this tournament in fine form either–bottoming out to 6-4, 6-0 in a listless performance last week in the first round of Brisbane.

In round three, the Ukranian could face Garbiñe Muguruza, who appears to be reinvigorated after dropping Sam Sumyk for Conchita Martinez. Conchita coached Garbiñe to the Wimbledon title in 2017 and, it appears, that her calm & relaxed personality works wonders for the Spaniard.  In 2020, she’s already reached two semifinals, in Shenzhen & Hobart.

Seminfinalsit Prediction: Muguruza

 

Semifinal Predictions:

Barty d. S. Williams

Muguruza d. Sabalenka

 

Final Prediction:

Muguruza d. Barty

A Thorough Analysis and Predictions: Australian Open Women’s Singles

wozoz1

While the tennis off-season is the shortest of nearly all professional sports, for the avid tennis fanatic, those ten weeks can feel unbearably long. I’m sure the players feel otherwise, with only a couple weeks to rehab their bodies before they resume their training. Nonetheless, the dust has finally cleared and the players are ready to vie for Grand Slam Glory once again.

Since my last preview, it feels like many of the storylines we’ll watch unfold during the fortnight remain unchanged. Serena is still in pursuit of Grand Slam trophy No. 24, Sharapova & Azarenka are still looking to recharge their comebacks, while Simona is looking to solidify her dominance over the tour.

Let’s preview this year’s draw:

FIRST QUARTER:

ozhalep

It must seem like déjà vu all over again for Simona Halep. Entering last year’s US Open, Simona seemed unstoppable, compiling a 9-1 record in seven days (that’s a “slam-and-a-half’s worth of matches). Somehow, Kaia Kanepi didn’t get the memo and blew the World No. 1 off the court in straight sets in the first round.

Somehow the draw gods have tapped the two to tango in the first round of the year’s first major again. However, the parallels to year’s Open don’t stop there. Like last year, the Sisters Williams have been drawn in her proximity. She’s projected to face Venus in round three and Serena in round four.

Last year, Simona’s herculean effort to reach the final was one of the most memorable Grand Slam runs this century, surviving a sprained ankle and two marathon matches to only to falter during the last hurdle in the final (being sent to the hospital after suffering from dehydration–no less). This year, she doesn’t look primed to replicate the same success. Recovering from a herniated disk, Halep has only played three matches since the US Open and enters the tournament short on match-experience. While coming in with low expectations might mean that she’s able to swing freely, something tells me that the question marks concerning the strength of her back will hold her back.

All in all, I’d say this section is Serena’s for the taking. She could face a re-inspired Eugenie Bouchard in the second round (who loves to step it up for big matches). Additionally, in the fourth round, she’s likely to face her sister Venus. Nonetheless, Serena looks fitter than ever and will be the favorite against whomever she faces.

In the bottom half of the draw, sit Karolina Pliskova, Daria Kasatkina, Gabiñe Muguruza, and Camila Giorgi. Karolina and Camila enter the Happy Slam looking hot, with Karolina opening her season by winning Brisbane and Camila ending 2018 with a title in Linz. Conversely, Dasha and Garbiñe come into Oz with question marks hanging over their heads, bottoming out during their AO tune-ups.

Whoever wins the third round match between Karolina and Camila, I expect will reach the quarterfinals. However, if they face Serena in that match, I don’t think either will prevail. Last year, both Karolina and Camila faced off against Serena in the quarterfinals of a Slam after having built up some serious steam during their first four matches. In the end, they both lost.

SEMIFINALIST PREDICTION: S. Williams

SECOND QUARTER:

20180908 Serena Williams v Naomi Osaka - Day 13
September 8, 2018 – Naomi Osaka in action against Serena Williams in the women’s singles final at the 2018 US Open.

In this section of the draw lie three players carrying great expectations heading into the new season. First and foremost is Naomi Osaka. Since becoming a star overnight with her controversy-ridden upset over Serena Williams in the US Open final, Naomi has handled the pressure well. She hasn’t shrunken from the big stage like most first-time Grand Slam champs, reaching the finals of Tokyo, semifinals of Beijing, and, most recently, the semifinals of Brisbane. Osaka is no fluke and she’s out to prove it.

Last year, Naomi was proud to reach the fourth round in Australia. It was the first time that she had ever gone past the third round at a major in five attempts. Slated to face then-newly-minted World No. 1 Simona Halep, who had just survived a nearly four-hour marathon against Lauren Davis (on a sprained ankle, no less), Naomi seems primed to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. Instead, she sprayed balls wildly and Halep coasted to victory in about an hour. In the past year, Naomi has undergone a complete transformation, developing into a cool, calm, and collected competitor who’s able to temper patience with power. I firmly believe that this reformed attitude and gameplan will inevitably lead her to more Slams in the future–if not soon.

Her draw certainly suggests that she’s primed for a deep run as well. Opening against World No. 83 in the first round, her first challenge comes in round three, against either former World No. 1 & two-time Australian Open Champion Victoria Azarenka or junk-baller and giant-killer Hsieh Su-Wei. She handled her projected fourth round opponent Anastasia Sevastova well in Brisbane, showcasing her superior serve and newfound problem-solving abilities.

Her other potential fourth round opponent is Qiang Wang, who is another player carrying great expectations heading into 2019. Surging at the end of last year, amassing a 23-6 record after the US Open (reaching three finals),  she was declared by many to be the successor to Li Na’s legacy. However, in 2019, she’s only played one match thus far, a loss to Alison Riske en route to the final of Shenzhen.

This quarter of the draw is headlined by Elina Svitolina, who sit in the bottom half. By winning the WTA Finals last year, she finally put the rumors surrounding her sudden weight loss to rest and reignited questions surrounding her Grand Slam hijinx. While Wozniacki was able to leverage the momentum earned from her WTA Finals win in order to finally get the Grand Slam hoodoo off of her back, I don’t expect the same from Svitolina this go around. She lost her opening match to a red-hot Sasnovich while attempting to defend her title in Brisbane and her draw poses her against a couple players who could exploit the nerves she has to be feeling. She opens up against an in-form qualifier and in the third round, she could face another WTA Finals champion, Dominika Cibulkova.

At the top of her section sit last year’s semifinalist, Elise Mertens, and the always dangerous Madison Keys. Mertens’ level seems to have hit its peak and she has yet to earn another signature win over a Top 10 player at a big event since her breakthrough triumph over Svitolina in last year’s quarters. On the other hand, Madison enters the event with no match play, being the only player to not participate in any tune-ups heading into OZ so as to rehab some lingering injuries. Last year, Madison Keys entered almost every Grand Slam with little match experience and was still able to reach at least the quarterfinals of three of them and I expect her to be a contender this time, nonetheless.

SEMIFINALIST PREDICTION: Osaka

THIRD QUARTER:

sabalenka1

If the second quarter of the draw is characterized by expectations, the third is defined by a battle between two generations. Can the veterans put the young-guns at bay?

The top section of the quarter is led by Petra Kvitova who seems to be in top form. Reaching the semifinals of Sydney (at the time of writing) and claiming the scalp of Angelique Kerber, Kvitova seems primed for a deep run.

Standing in her way is another surging player: Belinda Bencic. A former Top 10 player, Belinda’s past three seasons have been derailed by injuries resulting in a loss of confidence for the young Swiss. However, her stellar performance alongside Roger Federer at the Hopman Cup seems to have inspired her current run of form, leading her to the semis of Hobart this week (at the time of writing). Last year, Bencic entered the tournament on a streak, claiming to $125k titles and upsetting Venus Williams in the first round. Projected to go far, the weight of expectations bore heavily on the young Swiss and she bottomed out to Luksika Khumkhum 1 & 3 in the following round.

Whichever player survives to make the second week will face either red hot veteran Lesia Tsurenko or the explosive Aryna Sabalenka. While the former reached the Brisbane final last week, coming within two points of victory, Aryna is by far the more dangerous player. Aryna ended 2018 by winning Wuhan and starting this year’s campaign by lifting the trophy in Shenzhen (as the top seed, no less). At 20-years of age, she seems to possess enough maturity to control her explosive repertoire while also carrying enough naive confidence to feel like she should win every match she plays.

Only last year, she was laughed off the court by the Melbourne crowd for her grunts during her match against home-favorite, Ash Barty. This year, I think she’ll be cheered on by fans as she clobbers her way through the field in Melbourne Park. I foresee her becoming an unstoppable force in 2019.

Speaking of Ash Barty, she’s one of the challengers that will test defending champion, Caroline Wozniacki in the bottom half of this quarter. Ending her season by hoisting the biggest title of her career at the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai, Barty seems to have returned with a new, matured attitude. In fact, it has already paid dividends, already claiming the scalps of Simona Halep and Garbiñe Muguruza.

 

Conversely, Wozniacki arrives in Melbourne to defend her title with a few questions hanging over her head. While she was finally able to exorcize her Grand Slam demons at last year’s Australian Open, the rest of her year was below-average until her title in Beijing. After that tournament, she revealed her recent diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis. Insisting that the condition can be managed, she recognizes that her energy levels fluctuate day-to-day and I don’t expect the conditions in Melbourne to be kind to her.

Beyond Barty, other challengers standing in her way include two Maria’s: Sakkari and Sharapova. I actually think that the former poses a greater threat in Oz than the latter. Sakkari comes into the tournament after an extremely successful run at the Hopman Cup alongside her childhood friend Stefanos Tsitsipas. Their win against Federer in mixed doubles will undoubtedly be a highlight of her season and hopefully inspire a run of form that lasts throughout the year. Conversely, Sharapova enters Melbourne on a low. Retiring against Sabalenka in Shenzhen after suffering a thigh injury that seeming left her immobilized, she seems further away from recapturing her top-level from than ever before.

SEMIFINALIST PREDICTION: Sabalenka

FOURTH QUARTER:

kerber oz1

Compared to the top three quarters of the draw, the fourth quarter is by far the most… boring. While the section is headlined by Angelique Kerber, the rest of the competition doesn’t seem ready to post much of a threat.

The second-highest seed, Sloane Stephens, enters this tournament with a 1-2 record and seems to be listless after her “break” from coach Kamau Murray. Similarly, Caroline Garcia has lost both of her matches to open the year.

The only players who can pose a threat have tricky openers. No. 9 seed, Kiki Bertens, opens up against American Alison Riske, who reached the final of Shenzhen last week while Julia Goerges faces off against another American Danielle Collins, who pushed Kvitova to the limits in Sydney last week.

This quarter is Kerber’s to lose.

SEMIFINALIST PREDICTION: Kerber

 

SEMIFINALIST PREDICTIONS

S. Williams d. Osaka

Kerber d. Sabalenka

 

FINAL PREDICTION

Kerber d. S Williams