2018 Australian Open Main Draw Preview

The Australian Open draw is out, and this will be a super preview where I break the draw into 16 mini -sections. Read on for my preview and predicted winners…

First section: Headlined by [1] Simona Halep

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Simona Halep headlines the Australian Open draw as the number one seed for the first time in her career. Halep arrives at Melbourne Park with a great deal of confidence, having won five matches in Shenzhen. It wasn’t the most impressive week ever for Halep, having dropped sets to Duan Ying-Ying and Katerina Siniakova, but she seemed to improve after every match. I think Halep will be way improved from Shenzhen, but she has to start quickly here – she drew wildcard Destanee Aiava in round one, and possibly Eugenie Bouchard in the next. While both have potential weapons, I believe Halep’s way higher tactical awareness will at least get her into round 3.

The first seed Halep could meet is Petra Kvitova – grab em’ popcorn if that happens!  Halep leads the head to head 4-1, but Kvitova most recently trounced Simona in a 6-1 6-2 scoreline in 2016. Much has changed though since that match though – Petra is currently still on the comeback trail from that surgery and even though she has already won a WTA title, she still hasn’t been able to find much needed consistency and suffered another early exit in Sydney against Camila Giorgi (well, she had an illness in Brisbane and Giorgi was in peak form so I wouldn’t blame her). First up for Kvitova are Andrea Petkovic and Lauren Davis, her likely two opponents for the first two rounds but they are all struggling – Petkovic has dropped to No.101 in the rankings, and Davis has only won one main draw match since July 2017.

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Ashleigh Barty and Elena Vesnina are the other two seeds in this section. Both players have had opposite years in 2017 even though Vesnina is ranked higher than Barty. The former won her biggest singles title in Indian Wells but had struggled for the rest of the year. Finals in Wuhan, Birmingham and a title in Kuala Lumpur helped Barty to break into the world’s top 20 and even Garbine Muguruza said she could win a Slam! Just as their different years, they also had vastly different draws. Vesnina has a softer draw in the form of a first-round match-up in Ons Jabeur, but she is struggling with a back injury at the moment. Barty will kick off her campaign against the hard-hitting Aryna Sabalenka, and possibly another one in the next round in the form of Camila Giorgi.

First section predictions

Halep vs Kvitova, Barty vs Kucova

Halep vs Barty

Winner: Barty

Early exits: Vesnina

Dark horses: Kvitova, Giorgi

Second section: Headlined by [6] Karolina Pliskova

Karolina Pliskova tops the second section from the first quarter in what looks like a doable draw for Pliskova to make a run. Pliskova will start off against Veronica Cepede Royg, who pushed Pliskova to three sets in the French Open, and could play against Beatriz Haddad Maia in the second round. Haddad Maia has weapons that could definitely cause some problems so if she is able to get past Lizette Cabera that match will definitely be one to watch.

Lucie Safarova has once been dealt with a tough draw in Melbourne – Lucie and Slam draws doesn’t seem to be a perfect match! Safarova has only played one match this year, which was a loss to Angelique Kerber in Sydney, and she will not have time to find rhythm early on as she faces Alja Tomljanovic in the first round. Most notably, Tomljanovic pushed Johanna Konta to three sets in Brisbane. If she is able to remain injury-free this week, I would not be the least surprised to see the seed sent packing here. The winner of the Safarova-Tomljanovic clash will play Sorana Cirstea or Zarina Diyas.

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Speaking about Konta, she hasn’t been at her best as a retirement to Elina Svitolina (right hip injury) and an error-muddled lost to Agnieszka Radwanska in Sydney were disappointing results to start the season. Konta takes on Madison Brengle in the first round here; whilst Konta has beaten her before, an error-prone peformance will not see her through as Brengle is the type of player who thrives on errors. Barbora Strycova is the other seed here; for me she is the pick for the fourth round as the other players in this mini-section are pretty vulnerable.

Second section predictions

Konta vs Strycova, Ka.Pliskova vs Tomljanovic

Strycova vs Ka.Pliskova

Winner: Ka.Pliskova

Early exits: Konta, Safarova

Dark horses: Haddad Maia, Tomljanovic

Third section: Headlined by [3] Garbine Muguruza

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The second half of the draw is definitely one of the craziest sections in the draw – like seriously, all the big names are here! Let’s take it slowly and first introduce that Garbine Muguruza is the highest ranked player here. Muguruza has already had two retirements to start the year, but she has mentioned that she should be ready for the Australian Open. While wildcard Jessika Ponchet would probably not cause too many problems for Muguruza, Hsieh Su-Wei certainly can. The unorthodox game of Su-Wei can definitely neutralise Muguruza’s weapons, plus the Taiwanese is no stranger to upsets in Slams, beating Konta in last year’s French Open.

If Muguruza can even progress to the third round, she could play Natalia Vikhlyantseva, Lesia Tsurenko, Kristyna Pliskova or Agnieszka Radwanska – all who has the potential to upset Muguruza! Radwanska’s the seed here but she hasn’t had the best start to the year, losing in quick fashion to Sachia Vickery and Camila Giorgi in Auckland and Sydney respectively. Whilst Kr.Pliskova could blow away Aga easily with her raw power, I don’t see her having the patience to rally with Aga, thus a Mugu-Aga R3 match-up is a highly possible and juicy outcome.

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The bottom half of this section is equally lit. Angelique Kerber is back in the radar again having won seven straight matches through Hopman Cup and Sydney – as of writing, she’s in the Sydney semifinals where she’ll play Camila Giorgi. Back to the AO draw, and her first two rounds seems manageable as a returning Anna Lena-Friedsam will be playing her first top 25 opponent since the 2016 US Open. Donna Vekic is her possible R2 opponent and that seems like a fun prospect as Vekic is now being coached by Torben Beltz (the one who led Kerber to her two Slams in 2016). Still, I would expect Kerber’s counter-punching to bring her into round three.

Another lower-ranked player is lurking in this section – you’ve probably guessed Maria Sharapova and you’re right. While Maria didn’t do very well in her first tournament of the year, losing to eventual finalist Katerina Siniakova, we know she can bulldoze any draw in her peak form. There are potential players who have the potential to upset Sharapova though; and first up is Tatjana Maria which makes me laugh – the scoreboard will literally read Maria – Sharapova 😂. The other player is Anastasija Sevastova, who defeated Sharapova before in last year’s US Open. I remember how Sevastova almost sliced every backhand in that match and how Sharapova sent almost every slice ball into the net – well that match was a disaster! Tatjana is also another player who adores her slice a lot so these are potential pitfalls for Sharapova.

Third section predictions

Muguruza vs Radwanska, Kerber vs Sevastova

Radwanska vs Kerber

Winner: Kerber

Early exits: Muguruza?

Dark horses: Sharapova, Tsurenko

Fourth section: Headlined by [8] Caroline Garcia

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A possible Kristina Mladenovic-Caroline Garcia juicy match-up is a possible round 4 match-up but there needs to be a lot of work done before that can happen. Mladenovic is on a 14-match losing streak, which has continued into 2018 with losses to Aliaksandra Sasnovich in Brisbane and Ellen Perez in Sydney (a retirement, in fact). Ana Bogdan is not an easy first rounder for the Frenchwoman; I’ll be interested to see how that one pans out.

Madison Keys will be playing her first Grand Slam since reaching the final of the US Open last year. Since that tournament she has only played two matches – one was a loss to Vavara Lepchenko in Wuhan, while the other was a thrilling three-setter to Johanna Konta earlier this year. She seems to be back to her best and injury-free which is definitely the most important prospect of Keys’ career. First up for the American is Wang Qiang which already sounds like an upset alert. Wang is a horrible match-up for Keys as she can chase down any type of ball and redirect pace easily. It doesn’t get any easier in round two – Polona Hercog is in-form having reached the Auckland quarterfinals, whilst Ekaterina Alexandrova is another hard-hitter who has tons of weaponry (but needs some time to clean up her game).

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Back to Garcia and unfortunately, she is another player who had retired in her first match of the year with a back injury. If she plays like how we saw her in the Asian swing, she can easily sweep through this draw, but I don’t think she’ll be in the best form here. Carina Witthoeft and Kurumi Nara/Marketa Vondrousova are definitely not easy pickings so I have Garcia out early.

Mirjana Lucic-Baroni is another name I have for an early exit. Lucic-Baroni also had a retirement in Brisbane and has been in rotten form since Miami (it also must be said that she was struggling with injury since then). With all the seeded names here either under an injury cloud or struggling with form, I see a surprise name coming out of this quarter. Out of the four dark horses, I’ve chosen Aliaksandra Sasnovich. She’s improved since 2017 and looked really good in Brisbane.

Fourth section predictions

Watson vs Wang Qiang, Vondrousova vs Sasnovich

Wang Qiang vs Sasnovich

Winner: Sasnovich

Early exits: Mladenovic, Garcia, Keys, Lucic-Baroni

Dark horses: Rogers, Vondrousova, Wang Qiang, Sasnovich

Fifth section: Headlined by [5] Venus Williams

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Venus Williams is the defending finalist in Melbourne Park but she has been largely under the radar, probably due to her poor form in Sydney which saw her leave the tournament with only one match under her belt, which was a loss to Angelique Kerber. While losing to the in-form Kerber doesn’t sound like a very bad loss, but it was the manner in which she did, looking laboured in her serve and movement. It was her first match of the year though thus I will give her the benefit of the doubt. She will though have to perform way better in Melbourne if she is to even progress into the second round as she has drawn Belinda Bencic in definitely the highlight of the first rounders. Venus leads the head to head 4-0, but Bencic had looked really good – in fact so good in Perth that I’ve picked her for the win.

The No.31 seed Ekaterina Makarova started off the year with a 1-1 record, notching another top 10 win in Jelena Ostapenko in Sydney but then fell pretty tamely to Barbora Strycova. We all know that Makarova can randomly peak out of nowhere in Melbourne – she’s not dubbed as the Bourne-GOAT for nothing! She has reached the second week in Melbourne for seven straight years and I would not be the least surprised to see her streak extended. If my predictions are all right, Bencic-Makarova in the third round sounds fun…

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Julia Goerges is one of the hottest players on the WTA tour and she is just blazing through any type of tournament at the moment. She is on a 14-match winning streak, which consists of titles in Moscow, Zhuhai and Auckland, and most recently beat Caroline Wozniacki in a stunning performance. Based on form, I expect Goerges to make a deep run here, but the caveat is that she has never reached the quarterfinals in any Slam. She starts off against Sofia Kenin and likely Alize Cornet in the second round.

Daria Gavrilova is the other seed here, but the name I am looking at to make a deep run is Elise Mertens. The Belgian has been in stunning form to start the year, having won six out of seven matches, and is currently in the Hobart semifinals. Mertens plays a qualifier in the first round and probably Gavrilova next; the Belgian most recently beat the Australian in three sets at the Hopman Cup.

Fifth section predictions

Bencic vs Makarova, Mertens vs Goerges

Makarova vs Goerges

Winner: Goerges

Early exits: Williams, Gavrilova

Dark horses: Mertens, Makarova

Sixth section: Headlined by [4] Elina Svitolina

Elina Svitolina snagged the number four seed after winning her 10th WTA title in Brisbane and the reward is that she has been granted with a super smooth draw. Svitolina hasn’t reached a Grand Slam semifinal, and this is definitely the biggest chance for her to do so. Katerina Siniakova in the second round and Peng Shuai in the third round could be problems, but I think Svitolina will be way too strong here.

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US Open champion Sloane Stephens has drawn Zhang Shuai in another must-watch first rounder. Stephens’ post-Slam losing streak has now been extended to seven matches and an upset is certainly possible in this one. The winner of Zhang-Stephens will likely play Daria Kasatkina in the round of 32, who is on a  three-match losing streak.

Sixth section predictions

Zhang vs Kasatkina, Qualifier vs Svitolina

Zhang vs Svitolina

Winner: Svitolina

Early exits: Stephens, Peng

Dark horses: Zhang, Siniakova

Seventh section: Headlined by [7] Jelena Ostapenko

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Jelena Ostapenko leads this part of the draw in a who-knows-who-will-come-through section. Ostapenko has been struggling for form since Beijing, having lost her last five of seven matches (including exhibitions) and a horrible-serving performance to Makarova in Sydney showed that she needs LOADS of brushing up on her serve. I think Duan Ying-Ying in the second round could be a potential upset alert. Though the Chinese player has equally many weaknesses, I think she could punish the Ostapenko second serve pretty badly. The other seed in this eighth is Anett Kontaveit, who has lost her last 11 of 14 matches. Aleksandra Krunic would be a dark horse in this mini section to come through.

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Coco Vandweghe and Dominika Cibulkova is a projected third round match-up but it needs a lot on both players’ part in order for that to happen. The 2017 Australian Open semifinalist kicks off her campaign to defend those 780 points against the dangerous Timea Babos. Carla Suarez Navarro is her probable second round opponent and their head to head is tied at two wins apiece, with Vandeweghe winning their last match in Madrid.

Cibulkova had looked back to her best in Sydney, beating Anastasija Sevastova and Elena Vesnina back-to-back, but fell tamely to Angelique Kerber in a hit-or-miss performance. Cibulkova will have no time to settle down early on as her first round opponent, Kaia Kanepi, reached the quarterfinals in Brisbane as a qualifier, and came within two points of beating Karolina Pliskova as well. The winner will play either Samantha Stosur (who always struggles in Australia) or Monica Puig (who did not win a main draw match in her first two tourmaments) afterwards.

Seventh section predictions

Duan vs Krunic, Cibulkova vs Vandeweghe

Krunic vs Vandeweghe

Winner: Vandeweghe

Early exits: Ostapenko, Kontaveit

Dark horses: Duan, Krunic

Eighth section: Headlined by [2] Caroline Wozniacki

If Caroline Wozniacki will ever win a Grand Slam, this draw is HER chance to make that happen. I just can’t see any player who will be able to upset Wozniacki before the quarters – Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova withdrew from Sydney with injury and is highly erratic, Magdalena Rybarikova lost to Catherine Bellis in Sydney in an impatient display and Kiki Bertens can’t seem to win a match on hard courts. I’m expecting Wozniacki to breeze through this section.

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Eighth section predictions

Bondarenko vs Flipkens, Bellis vs Wozniacki

Flipkens vs Wozniacki

Winner: Wozniacki

Early exits: Pavlyuchenkova, Rybarikova, Bertens

Dark horses: Riske, Bellis

Final Prediction: Caroline Wozniacki d. Karolina Pliskova

Australian Open predictions are coming out soon, you can find them at the top of the menu when they are out. Thank you for reading! 🙂

 

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