Palmerbet Sports Team serve up their 2019 Australian Open tips as they run the rule over the women’s draw. The usual names are dominating the pre-tournament odds – but several big names are experiencing form issues. Could another maiden grand slam winner rise up…even an Aussie?
THE TOP CONTENDERS
Seeded 16th and without a grand slam title in two years, Serena Williams remains the red-hot favourite. Women’s tennis’ G.O.A.T. returned from a maternity break in 2018 and reached the Wimbledon and US Open finals. But her histrionics in a shock loss to Naomi Osaka in the latter means scrutiny and pressure will follow her throughout the upcoming Melbourne campaign. Williams’ only outings since the US Open were at the Hopman Cup, where she looked in good touch. She boasts seven Australian Open titles, reaching the final (and winning two) in her last three visits.
The 2016 Australian Open champion is coming off a bumper 2018 that garnered a year-end world No.2 ranking. She reached the semis in Melbourne – losing to Simona Halep in an unforgettable marathon – and the quarters of the French Open, before clinching her maiden Wimbledon crown. A third-round US Open exit highlighted a subpar end to the season. But she defeated Ashleigh Barty recently in the Hopman Cup. The experience of grand slam final wins over Williams in recent years could come in handy later in the tournament.
Japanese wunderkind Osaka stormed to US Open glory last year as a $41 pre-tournament outsider. Her remarkable win came despite not having progressed past the fourth round of a major previously. The Australian Open will test the 21-year-old’s mettle, however. The pressure of the world No.4 ranking and her status as the most recent major winner represent new hurdles. She made the semis of the China Open following her Flushing Meadows triumph but has struggled for form since. Osaka crashed out to Lesia Tsurenko in the first round in Brisbane and cancelled her scheduled appearance at the Sydney International. Osaka defeated Barty on her way to the fourth round in Melbourne in 2018, where she lost to Halep.
The highest-ranked player without a grand slam title to their name, world No.6 Svitolina is well-placed to embark on an Osaka-esque breakout run. The Ukrainian reached the quarters at the Australian Open last year, where she was upset by Elise Mertens. After a fourth-round appearance at the US Open, Svitolina finished 2018 on a high by winning the WTA Finals tournament with five straight victories over top-10 opposition. But the top-seeded 24-year-old was dumped out of the Brisbane International in the first round by Aliaksandra Sasnovich last week in a less-than-ideal lead-in.
The world No.1 will be hell-bent on going one better than 2018, when she lost a classic Australian Open final to Caroline Wozniacki (who is listed as a $21 chance to defend her title). Halep broke through for a maiden grand slam title at the French Open last year but had a disappointing back half of the season. The Romanian crashed out in the third round at Wimbledon and the first round at the US Open. Halep finished 2018 with immediate exits at the Wuhan and China Opens, while she went down in straight sets to Ashleigh Barty in her first hit-out of 2019. Still a massive chance and good value – but Halep needs a significant form reversal.
BEST AUSSIE CHANCE
No Aussie woman has made it to the Australian Open semis in the past 30 years, but Barty could hardly have done more to suggest she is capable of ending that drought in 2019. The 22-year-old finished with a career-high ranking of 16th in the world after a watershed WTA Elite Trophy triumph. Following some impressive Hopman Cup form, Barty has despatched Jelena Ostapenko and Simona Halep in straight sets at the Sydney International – few seeded players come into the Australian Open in better form. Being a home-crowd favourite is a double-edged sword: The fans will spur Barty on, but there are also massive expectations on her. The Queenslander has not been past the fourth round of a grand slam before, while her best Australian Open results were third-round appearances in 2017-18.
The 23-year-old Belgian will have fond memories of Melbourne, the scene of her breakout grand slam run. Making her Australian Open debut in 2018, the unseeded Mertens went on a stunning charge to the semis – beating seeded players Daria Gavrilova and Svitolina – where she lost to Wozniacki. She used that performance as a springboard to career-best runs at the French Open (fourth round), Wimbledon (third round) and US Open (fourth round). Also winning three WTA titles last year, Mertens rocketed up the rankings to 12th. A strong showing at the Sydney International will have provided her with the confidence for a genuine tilt at the Australian Open.