Tennis365’s top contenders for Australian Open women’s title

There will be no Serena Williams at the 2018 Australian Open, which means the chances of this year’s champion being a first-time winner of the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup are quite high.

In fact, Angelique Kerber and Maria Sharapova are the only two former winners in the field while Venus Williams and Dominika Cibulkova are the only two former runners-up competing.

It will still be a quality field competing in Melbourne, though, and here are the five players who we expect to be challenging for the trophy come Sunday January 27, 2018.

Simona Halep

The Romanian started the year as world No 1 on the back of an excellent 2017 campaign that saw her reach the top spot in the rankings for the first time in her career while she also finished runner-up at the French Open.

She has also started the 2018 campaign well, seeing off Katerina Siniakova in the final of the Shenzhen Open.

However, there remain doubts about her ability to win the big matches as well as performances on hard courts.

Halep played in five finals last year, winning only the Madrid Open in May, while she was also dumped out of the Australian and US Opens in the first round. She also fell at the first hurdle in the 2016 Australian Open with her best performances in Melbourne coming in 2014 and 2015 when she reached the quarter-finals.

Garbine Muguruza

The Spaniard has played in only eight finals in her professional career, but three of them were Grand Slam finals and she won two of those.

She has been a steady performer in the Australian Open since making her bow at Melbourne Park in 2013, reaching the fourth round twice and exiting at the quarter-final stage in 2017.

Muguruza might not be the top seed or the world No 1 heading into the tournament, but she is the favourite to win the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup.

Karolina Pliskova
The 2016 US Open runner-up surged to the top of the world rankings in the middle of 2017 on the back of three title wins.

She was one of the most consistent performers in Grand Slams last year as since being beaten by Angelique Kerber at Flushing Meadows in 2016, she has reached the French Open semi-final, Australian Open and US Open quarter-finals and Wimbledon second round.

Pliskova though needs to turn that consistency into Grand Slam title wins and the Australian Open will give her a good chance to join the elite list of major winners.

Angelique Kerber

After the highs of 2016 during which she won two Grand Slams and reached No 1 in the world, Kerber slumped to outside the top 20 in 2017 and reached only one final, which she lost.

However, the German took some drastic steps at the end of last year to regain form as she parted with long-time coach Torben Beltz and appointed Wim Fissette.

She has also looked pretty sharp during the Australian warm-up event, the Hopman Cup, and will be there or thereabout when it comes to challenging for the title in Melbourne.

Caroline WozniackiIs this her year? The two-time US Open finalist enjoyed a career resurgence in 2017 and her success at the season-ending WTA Finals means the only thing still missing from her CV is a Grand Slam trophy.

The Dane is seeded second for the Australian Open and her best performances at Melbourne to date are semi-final appearance in 2011 and a quarter-final spot in 2012.

This year surely represents her best chance to finally getting her hands on a major as her game has come on in leaps and bounds in the last year.

* The evergreen Venus Williams returned to form in 2017 as she appeared in two Grand Slam finals, but one should not forget that she is 37.
* Maria Sharapova made her comeback from her ban last year and she is always there or thereabouts. On top of that she has a point to prove.
* Jelena Ostapenko is the future of women’s tennis and she already has several victories over some of the world’s best players. Don’t be too surprised if she adds the Australian Open title to her French Open trophy.