With the first major of the year fast approaching, it’s time to check in on how the 32 seeds are doing, feature the best first-round matches and make predictions:
1. Angelique Kerber: The early round losses to Elina Svitolina and Daria Kasatkina shouldn’t be concerning to the defending Australian Open champion, but the pressure of defending her title in Melbourne and holding onto her #1 ranking should be. With Serena Williams on the other half of the draw, the German looks a safe bet to at least reach the quarterfinals.
2. Serena Williams: The loss to Madison Brengle in Auckland was a major surprise and questions about her health and age make the 22-time Grand Slam champion less of a favorite at a major than at any other time. Still, she is the one to beat despite a brutal draw that begins with Belinda Bencic.
3. Agnieszka Radwanska: The Sydney finals appearance was quite encouraging, but as has always been the case with the Pole, playing someone with more power than her is her stumbling block as Johanna Konta proved once again last night in that championship match. With a quarterfinal looming against Karolina Pliskova, Radwanska’s stay in Melbourne may not see the final weekend.
4. Simona Halep: From the third round on, no one has it more difficult than the Romanian as she could face Rio gold medalist Monica Puig, Venus Williams and either Elina Svitolina or Svetlana Kuznetsova and that’s just to get to the semifinals. Halep, who lost in Shenzhen to Katerina Siniakova, will win a major one day, but it won’t be here.
5. Karolina Pliskova: No one is on more of a roll than the Czech, having reached the U.S. Open final last year and starting 2017 with a resounding tournament win in Brisbane. Finally shedding the tag of never having gone deep in a major, Pliskova could very well find herself holding the trophy in two weeks time.
6. Dominika Cibulkova: The Singapore champion flamed out to Alize Cornet and it’s always dangerous to count her out or rely on here, therefore it’s almost impossible to predict how far she’ll go. With Konta and Radwanska in her path, it’s likely she won’t get anywhere near the final here as she did in 2012.
7. Garbine Muguruza: The Spaniard is starting to play better and her weapons on a hard court give her a chance to pick up her second major title. In the same quarter as Kerber, Muguruza can count this fortnight as successful if she meets the German in the last eight regardless of the outcome.
8. Svetlana Kuznetsova: Rallied to get back into the Top 10 last year, largely due to her win in Moscow, she didn’t come close to defending her title in Sydney. A nice draw will give her time to ease into the tournament until she likely meets Svitolina and/or Halep.
9. Johanna Konta: One year on from her stunning run to the semifinals of last year’s Australian Open, the Brit has landed in the Top 10 and won two titles, including her demolition of Radwanska in the Sydney final. Serena will likely stop her one round short of repeating last year’s effort, but Konta has established herself as a legitimate threat to go deep in majors.
10. Carla Suarez Navarro: Arguably the best active player to have never reached a Grand Slam semifinal, it likely won’t come here due to the surface (despite her win in Doha last year). She likely will only make it to the Round of 16 and lose to her friend Muguruza.
11. Elina Svitolina: Three upsets of #1 ranked players in the last five months has caused people to take notice of the Ukranian as she comes into a major with her highest seeding ever. The win over Kerber in Brisbane should do wonders for her confidence and although Kuznetsova and Halep lie in wait, it wouldn’t shock anyone if Svitolina made her Slam breakthrough here.
12: Timea Bacsinszky: Nothing spectacular has come from the Swiss as of late, but her steadiness has allowed her to remain in the Top 15. Her draw features Camila Giorgi in the first round and then a likely loss to Pliskova in the fourth round.
13. Venus Williams: It’s no secret a lot of people would love to see the elder Williams pick up one more Grand Slam before her career is done, but external factors, as has been the case for a while now, have prevented that. On her best day, she’s still a threat as evidenced by her nail-biter against Pliskova in Flushing Meadows last year, but it’s impossible to say what Venus will give day-in, day-out. Halep, Puig and French Open semifinalist Kiki Bertens all are in her section.
14. Elena Vesnina: The Russian shocked everyone with her appearance in the Wimbledon semifinals, which helped vault her into the Top 15. With Samantha Stosur and Radwanska in her section, it’s likely she won’t repeat that effort in Melbourne.
15. Roberta Vinci: Still in the Top 15, the veteran from Italy faces a stern opening-round test in the form of American Coco Vandeweghe. If she can get past that, she’ll likely see Kasatkina and/or Kerber in the third and fourth rounds, respectively.
16. Barbora Strycova: The feisty Czech has had a good Australian Open series, reaching the quarterfinals in Auckland and the semifinals in Brisbane and she is a former Wimbledon quarterfinalist. With all that being said, Serena is in her 16’s and that’s where her tournament ends.
17: Caroline Wozniacki: Back in the Top 20 after her U.S. Open semifinals appearance and win in Tokyo, the Dane lost to Strycova in the Sydney quarterfinals. Playing well at the moment, she’s unlucky to have been drawn with Konta in the third round.
18: Samantha Stosur: Always underperforming at her home Slam, the Aussie is no guarantee to get out of her first round match against Heather Watson. If she does, Vesnina, Radwanska and Cornet are all players in her section she could beat or players she could lose to based on the pressure.
19: Kiki Bertens: It’s been a wonderful last year for the Dutchwoman with that Roland Garros semifinal, Nuremberg trophy, Bastad runner-up finish and numerous doubles wins with Johanna Larsson. She fell to Belgian qualifier Elise Mertens in the quarterfinals of Hobart. Another big hitter with weapons, Venus and Halep stand in her way of another deep run.
20: Shuai Zhang: If it wasn’t for Konta’s brilliance in Melbourne, the Chinese, who lost to the Brit in last year’s quarterfinals, would have been the story of the tournament after upsetting Halep in the first round and parlaying it into a last eight appearance. A fourth round match against Muguruza is as far as she’s likely to go.
21: Caroline Garcia: Two titles and a French Open doubles win with Kristina Mladenovic last year have put the talented Frenchwoman in good stead. She’s unlucky to be in the same section with Serena if she can get past Strycova one round earlier.
22: Daria Gavrilova: Thrilled the home folks with a round of 16 showing last year, upsetting Petra Kvitova and Mladenovic before losing to Suarez Navarro. Having reached the finals of Moscow last year has set her up to be seeded, but she has no easy draw with U.S. Open quarterfinalist Ana Konjuh or a rematch with Mladenovic in the second round, Bacsinszky in round three and Pliskova in the Round of 16.
23: Daria Kasatkina: The young Russian has had an excellent last 12 months, including taking Venus to the wire at Wimbledon last year and she upset Kerber to reach the Sydney quarterfinals. She could see the defending champion again in the Round of 16.
24: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova: Never one for consistency, she is a threat due to her power and groundstrokes, with a draw featuring Svitolina and Kuznetsova, she’s likely not escaping the first week even if she’s playing well.
25: Timea Babos: Someone who has risen through the ranks in the last year or so, the Hungarian should have a second week Slam appearance sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, Serena will likely prevent it from being here in their third round meeting.
26: Laura Siegemund: Breaking through with a title in Bastad and a runner-up appearance in Stuttgart, the German’s draw is stacked with Jelena Jankovic first up, followed by either Siniakova or countrywoman Julia Goerges and then Kuznetsova. It’s no fault of Siegemund’s if she bows out to any of those players.
27: Irina-Camelia Begu: Probably still the quietest, most anonymous Top 30 player on tour, the Romanian is nothing if but consistent and likely to lose to Kerber in the third round.
28: Alize Cornet: Upset Cibulkova to reach the Brisbane final before being crushed by Pliskova in the championship match, the Frenchwoman is playing well enough for a second week stay, but she’s likely to see Radwanska in the third round, which will prevent that from happening.
29: Monica Puig: No story was more heartwarming last year than the Puerto Rican’s Olympic gold medal, defeating Kvitova and Kerber to do it. With the first gold in the bag for her country, Puig can now focus on similar success at majors, but Halep is likely to end her run in the third round. If she can get past the Romanian, the quarterfinals is not out of the question.
30: Ekaterina Makarova: A former semifinalist in Melbourne, the Russian’s best days in singles are behind her, but she’s still a threat. Even if she beats Cibulkova in round three, Konta will eliminate her in round four.
31: Yulia Putintseva: She reached the French Open quarterfinals and gave Serena a test, but here she’s nothing more than practice for Pliskova when they meet in the Round of 32.
32: Anastasija Sevastova: The Latvian reached the U.S. Open quarterfinals with upsets over Muguruza and Konta and she also reached the Bucharest final, where she was unfortunately double-bagelled by Halep. Having retired and come back to greater success, she’ll get another chance to repeat her upset of Muguruza in the third round.
Best first-round matches
Bencic vs Serena: Unquestionably, the best first round matchup at any major in a long time, the Swiss star could create a major shock if she can shake the injury bug that’s plagued her the last year. It’s guaranteed Williams won’t be taking Bencic lightly.
Giorgi vs Bacsinszky: The classic case of the big hitter (Giorgi) against the finesse player (Bacsinszky). If the Italian is on, she could surprise. If not, this could be a long affair.
Konjuh vs Mladenovic: The 19-year old has been playing well lately, having just reached the final of Auckland, but the Frenchwoman is an excellent player and she should make this a real battle no matter who wins.
Flipkens vs Konta: Although the Brit should win, the Belgian, a former Wimbledon semifinalist, should make this a very entertaining watch.
Vandeweghe vs Vinci: Another matchup of contrasting styles and one with definite upset possibilities. Vandeweghe is a former Wimbledon quarterfinalist and Vinci will need her very best to avoid being sent packing in the first round.
Semifinals: Kerber def. Svitolina, Pliskova def. Williams
Final: Pliskova def. Kerber