2018 Australian Open Women’s Seed Report: Predictions, Dark Horses

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With Serena Williams absent due to needing more time to physically recover from giving birth to her daughter and Victoria Azarenka sidelined because of her ongoing custody battle, the women’s field at the Australian Open is as wide open as ever. This seed report is our guess as to how these two weeks will play out.

Seed report

1. Simona Halep: The top seed at a major for the first time, the Romanian attained the #1 ranking in Beijing last year. That could change depending on how other players fare. She won Shenzhen for the second time in three years, but given the rumored quickness of the courts and her draw that includes Petra Kvitova and Ashleigh Barty, it’s no guarantee that she’ll produce a quarterfinal showing, twice her best previous finish in Melbourne.
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2. Caroline Wozniacki: Her win at the WTA Finals in Singapore continued a remarkable resurgence for the Dane, who nearly fell out of the Top 100 just two years ago and she made the final in Auckland last week. Like Halep, she could fall victim to a big hitter on the fast courts and she hasn’t been past the third round here since 2013. That should change with a nice draw, but Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the Round of 16 and Jelena Ostapenko or Coco Vandeweghe in the quarterfinals will likely prevent her from seeing the final weekend.
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3. Garbine Muguruza: She can reclaim the #1 ranking with an appearance in the final, but injuries forced her to withdraw from Brisbane and a walkover to Daria Gavrilova in Sydney puts the health of the Spaniard in doubt. On her best day at full fitness, she’s a contender for her third Slam, but with a rough draw that includes a resurgent Angelique Kerber, Anastasija Sevastova and Maria Sharapova, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Muguruza fall victim to an early upset.

4. Elina Svitolina: The best player of the last year, Svitolina has captured seven titles in that span, four of them Premier-level, including in Brisbane two weeks ago. Despite not having been past the quarterfinals in any Major, she’s the favorite. A fairly good draw could take her to a quarterfinal with the white-hot Julia Goerges, which would be fun to watch. If she gets by the German, I believe the Ukranian will collect her first Major championship.

5. Venus Williams: A remarkable 2017 campaign began with a finals appearance in Melbourne, losing to Serena and ended with a finals showing in Singapore, falling to Wozniacki. She played one warmup match, losing to Kerber in three sets in Sydney, but don’t read too much into that. The draw does her no favors with a first-round blockbuster against Belinda Bencic and the likes of Goerges and Svitolina waiting later on, but count her out at your own peril.
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6. Karolina Pliskova: She failed to deliver as the favorite down under last year, losing in a quarterfinal shocker to Mirjana Lucic-Baroni and her best Major showing in 2017 was on her worst surface at the French Open, reaching the semifinals. She blew a 4-0 first set lead in the semifinals of Sydney in a straight sets loss to Svitolina. With the pressure being off now, the Czech could go a long way this time around.

7. Jelena Ostapenko: Lost in the first round of both Brisbane and Sydney, so she’s not in great form, but the quick courts play perfectly to her powerful, aggressive style. Coco Vandeweghe awaits for a possible Round of 16 clash between big hitters, but the draw is very kind to her otherwise, which could see the Latvian into the final weekend.

8. Caroline Garcia: Blazed through the fall, taking the titles in Wuhan and Beijing as well as a semifinal showing in Singapore to reach the top ten for the first time in her career. Her newfound steadiness will get tested right away with a bushel of big hitters in her way, starting with Carina Witthoeft, followed by Marketa Vondrousova and possibly Lucic-Baroni. Nevertheless, it’s good to see the Frenchwoman delivering on the talent she has.

9. Johanna Konta: On track record alone, the Brit would be considered a title contender, having reached the semifinals and quarterfinals the last two years in Melbourne. With Serena absent and Kerber not in her way until the semifinals (the two players that have knocked her out) plus a kind draw, things look good for Konta until you realize she injured her hip in a third set retirement to Svitolina in Brisbane followed by crashing out to Agnieszka Radwanska in the first round of Sydney as the defending champion.

10. Coco Vandeweghe: She blasted through Kerber and Muguruza on her way to her first career Slam semifinal here last year. Took Venus to three sets in the last four and followed that up with a semifinal at the U.S. Open and a quarterfinal at Wimbledon. With Aussie Pat Cash in her coaching box, the American figures to get extra crowd support.

11. Kristina Mladenovic: Suffered her 14th straight loss with a first-round exit to Aussie wild card Ellen Perez in Brisbane, retiring two games from defeat due to heat exhaustion. Hasn’t won a match since the first round of Wimbledon last year. Four matches away from breaking the WTA record for consecutive losses, the Frenchwoman faces Ana Bogdan in the first round.

12. Julia Goerges: Other than Svitolina, the German is the in-form player of the moment, having finished off 2017 with titles in Moscow and Zhuhai and starting 2018 with her third straight tournament win in Auckland, knocking off Wozniacki in the final. Like Garcia, she’s found consistency to go with her talent. Reached the fourth round in Flushing Meadows to precede her great run and it’s quite possible she could go farther this fortnight.

13. Sloane Stephens: Her U.S. Open win netted Stephens her first major championship in her home country, surviving three-setters against Sevastova and Venus before dismantling Madison Keys in the final. She hasn’t won a match since, including getting blasted by Camila Giorgi in the first round of Sydney. Starts off with 2016 Aussie Open quarterfinalist Shuai Zhang.
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14. Anastasija Sevastova: The Latvian is a two-time U.S. Open quarterfinalist and her all-court style and variety is very pleasing to watch. Brutal draw that could see her and Sharapova face off for the second straight major after Sevastova edged the Russian in a third set tiebreak in Flushing Meadows followed by Kerber.

15. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova: Three titles last season marked her best campaign on tour and she’s reached the quarterfinals or better in all four majors.  Still, even with 11 career titles, you get the sense the Russian has never lived up to her potential. A third-rounder with Magdalena Rybarikova would provide a wonderful contrast in styles.

16. Elena Vesnina: The Indian Wells title is what’s mostly holding up her ranking at the moment. With Halep, Barty, Kvitova and Aryna Sabalenka all in her section of the draw, it’s unlikely she’ll do much damage, so she should enjoy her top 16 seed while she still has one.

17. Madison Keys: The good news? She reached the U.S. Open final, upsetting Svitolina along the way and dropping just three games to Vandeweghe in the semifinals. The bad news? She won the same amount of games in the final against Stephens as the American melted down under the pressure. A former semifinalist in Melbourne, she’s lucky to be in Mladenovic’s section. Lost to Konta in a three-setter in Brisbane.

18. Ashleigh Barty: Her upward climb in the rankings will continue after reaching the Sydney final, losing to Kerber. Her comeback has been remarkable as she’s made three Premier-level finals in the space of eight months. Has a horrible first-round draw against Sabalenka, but if she survives that, the fans will be treated to a long run by the now top-ranked Australian woman.

19. Magdalena Rybarikova: Her run to the Wimbledon semifinals thrilled us all as she played scintillating old-school, grass-court tennis and her second-round upset of Pliskova was the highlight. She may not get any farther than the third round, but someone as talented as the Slovak belongs where she is at the moment.

20. Barbora Strycova: The Czech has seen the last 16 down under each of the last two years and she could make it a hat-trick with a potentially injured Konta in the third round. Due to her personality, she’ll be fun to watch however long she’s around.

21. Angelique Kerber: The performance of the two-time major champion at the Hopman Cup, where she reached the final with Alexander Zverev was encouraging, but her win in Sydney was even more positive and with added power on her serve and groundstrokes, she looks closer to the player that reached #1 and won in Melbourne and Flushing Meadows two years ago. She’ll be a major factor once again.

22. Daria Kasatkina: It’s frustrating to watch the young Russian play such defensive tennis when her talent suggests she should play more aggressively. Reached the third round here in 2016 for her best finish in Melbourne and is not in a bad section of the draw, but at the same time, she should be on upset alert with a possible second round encounter with American Jennifer Brady, who reached the fourth round last year, looming.

23. Daria Gavrilova: Strong start to her year with a semifinal showing in Sydney, losing in three sets to Barty. Two straight fourth round appearances in her home Slam, but two-time Hobart champion Elise Mertens and Goerges block her path to another last 16 berth.

24. Dominika Cibulkova: Perhaps now that she is no longer in the top 10 and the expectations are lowered, the former finalist can once again play her best tennis at the majors, where she failed to advance past the third round in any of the four Slams last year. Lost to Kerber in the third round in Sydney.

25. Shuai Peng: A former U.S. Open semifinalist, the top-ranked Chinese woman is adept on the hard courts, where both of her career titles have come. Upset Kasatkina in the opening round here last year and has a terrific draw until she gets Svitolina in the third round.

26. Agnieszka Radwanska: With her quarterfinal loss to Giorgi in Sydney, she’ll fall out of the Top 30 in the rankings come Monday for the first time in 11 years. This may very well be her last major as a seed, so let’s enjoy the Pole’s craftiness and shot-making while she’s still a semi-relevant factor rankings-wise. Draws Kristyna Pliskova in the first round, who set the WTA record for most aces in a match here last year with 31.

27. Petra Kvitova: A viral illness forced her to withdraw in Brisbane and Giorgi got her in the second round of Sydney. Lost a third-set breaker to Venus in the U.S. Open quarterfinals. Out of the top 20 for the first time in seven years after failing to defend her title in Zhuhai. Her third-round showdown with Halep will likely tell us a lot about where she is at the moment.

28. Mirjana Lucic-Baroni: There was no more emotional, spectacular and utterly heart-warming story in tennis than the Croat’s ride to the semifinals in Melbourne last year. She’s unlikely to repeat that this year, but if she somehow upset Garcia, she could come close. A joy to see her still seeded at a Slam and no more than she deserves here.

29. Lucie Safarova: If there’s one player who can actually feel good about her Australian Open preparation despite losing in her lone match, it’s the Czech as she played a fantastic match against Kerber in Sydney and would have beaten almost anyone else in the draw. With that level, she’s not someone you look forward to facing in the later stages.

30. Kiki Bertens: Failed to deliver at any major last season, losing in the first round in three of the four, but two titles on her favored clay surface has kept her seeded here. Her first round opponent is CiCi Bellis, who beat her in the second round of last year’s French Open. Not a good sign for her prospects.

31. Ekaterina Makarova: Upset Kerber in the first round of the French last year when the German was the top seed. Is fourth on the active list with ten Top 10 wins to her name and has been a semifinalist twice in Melbourne. Will be a good watch in the third round against either Venus or Bencic.

32. Anett Kontaveit: Seeded at a major for the first time, the Estonian had her breakthrough season in 2017, reaching three finals and winning her first title in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Faces a dangerous first-round match against the talented, tricky Aleksandra Krunic. Her best finish at a Slam is a Round of 16 at the 2015 U.S. Open. A win over Ostapenko in the third round will equal that and garner her deserved recognition as one of the best young players on tour.

Darkhorses:

Goerges: Currently on a 14-match winning streak, it will be interesting to see how she deals with the pressure of being in the conversation for a deep Slam run for the first time in her career. She’s found remarkable consistency not previously seen from the German during her ascent to a career-high ranking.

Barty: Another player who has pressure on her as she’s now the Aussie woman everyone will focus on. She’s already been through the rigors of burnout, stepping away from the game and returning better than when she left. If she can handle all of this, she’ll elevate herself even higher.

Kerber: It might be hard to justify how a former champion of the event can be on the list, especially since she’s still seeded and unlike Goerges and Barty, has had plenty of success in Slams, but her 2017 was that bad. As mentioned above, she looks terrific to start 2018 and a deep, deep run in Melbourne is very likely.

Bencic: Again, the draw (at least in the first round) does her no favors. She took home three ITF titles at the end of last year as well as the Hopman Cup trophy with Roger Federer and although Kerber snapped her 15-match winning streak, the confidence she gained during that time could bear out in Melbourne.

Kaia Kanepi: This may seem like a strange choice, but the Estonian reached the U.S. Open quarterfinals last year marking the sixth time she’s made the last eight of a major. With the inconsistent Cibulkova first up, followed by Samantha Stosur or Monica Puig in the second round, she could give herself an opportunity to face Vandeweghe and Ostapenko in successive rounds. Although she won’t win the tournament, her resume in majors and powerful game give her a spot on this list.

Special mention

Jelena Jankovic: The Serb will be absent from the Australian Open after seeing her ranking plummet to 158 in the world. She chose not to enter in qualifying, which is why she has a paragraph reserved for her in this article. The decision snapped a streak of 56 straight majors played. A former world number one and U.S. Open finalist, we may never see her at a Slam again after back surgery in December, so here’s a nod to her professionalism, entertaining personality, durability and success in playing 14 straight years worth of majors. She will be missed.

Best first-round matches

Williams vs Bencic: Belinda draws the marquee opener in Melbourne for a second consecutive year, this time against the older Williams. Let’s hope this one lives up to the billing. Winner could go very far.

Barty vs Sabalenka: Already discussed how much success the Aussie can have here, but against the bomb-throwing, big-hitting Belarussian teenager, she may be out right away. Will be a night match on Laver, which only adds to the appeal.

Krunic vs Kontaveit: Never as good as she should be, the Serb can be counted on to provide two things: entertaining matches with her tricky style and upsets in Slams as she’s done before. Kontaveit should be careful here.

Cibulkova vs Kanepi: Hard-hitting battle that could go either way. Kanepi is not a player you want to see early when she’s clicking. Up-and-down nature of Cibulkova makes this an upset possibility.

Kr. Pliskova vs Radwanska: The younger Pliskova is the type of player that Radwanska hates facing: someone that can blow her off the court. Although she’s not anywhere near the player sister Karolina is and she lost that match to Puig in which she hit 31 aces, the Pole may be susceptible here with her current form.

Predictions

Semifinals:

Kerber def. Barty: In what will be a repeat of the Sydney final, the German will re-announce herself on the big stage. Will be an entertaining match and the home fans will be delighted to see Ash in the final four, but Kerber is playing too well at the moment.

Svitolina def. Ostapenko: The fast courts would seem to favor the reigning French Open champion and she knocked Svitolina out in the fourth round of Wimbledon, but if the Ukranian can keep the rallies long enough, she can extract errors from Ostapenko, which she’ll be able to do to reach the final.

Final

Svitolina def. Kerber: The two best players of the young season so far meet with the title on the line. Svitolina has won four straight against Kerber and while three of those were in the German’s disastrous (for her standards) 2017, it still gives the fourth seed confidence in this matchup. If they’re both playing to the level they’ve shown in 2018, this could be a classic. I’ll tip Svitolina by the slimmest of margins to bring home her first major championship.

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