By Ros Satar, in Melbourne
- World No. 1 and defending champion Angelique Kerber mounts the first of her Slam defences
- Second seed Serena Williams kicks things off with a blockbuster against Belinda Bencic
- British interest lies with Johanna Kona, Naomi Broady and Heather Watson after Laura Robson and Tara Moore fell in the first round of qualifying.
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – Angelique Kerber returns to the Slam which kicked off a remarkable year for her, as she starts her title defence.
Top Quarter – Angelique Kerber, Garbiñe Muguruza
It would be fair to say that the start of the year has not been easy for the defending champion Angelique Kerber. She was defending finalist points in Brisbane but was bounced out in just her second match, and lost to talented teen Daria Kasatkina in the opening match in Sydney. To come into a Slam with no back to back wins is not ideal.
She will start against Lesia Tsurenko who made her work for her win over her in Sydney a couple of years ago, forcing Kerber to come from a set down.
But this is a very different Kerber, although it is hard to say where her confidence is at. Her serving has been troublesome, and don’t forget she was down match-point in her opener here last year. She could well face Kasatkina again potentially in the fourth round.
The rest of the bracket could see a fourth round showdown against compatriots and friends Garbiñe Muguruza and Carla Suárez Navarro if the latter has gotten over the injury issues that have dogged the beginning of her year.
Second Quarter – Simona Halep, Svetlana Kuznetsova
Could this finally be the Slam that Simona Halep breaks through? The Romanian is another player who comes with precious little match practice, having exited Shenzhen in the second round. She could face the fire power of Monica Puig in the third round and the potential match up with Venus Williams could be a fascinating one.
Svetlana Kuznetsova finished with a pleasing flurry at the end of the last year, squeaking into the Singapore WTA Finals draw and making it all the way to the semi-final. Don’t count her out of a run to at least the quarter-finals and secretly we are hoping that tour veteran Jelena Jankovic upsets the seedings and puts herself in the frame for a third round encounter with the Russian. At the other end of the section Elina Svitolina ought to make some solid progress here. Much has been promised from the Ukrainian, and the 11th seed could potentially put on a run.
Third Quarter – Karolina Pliskova, Agnieszka Radwanska
On the subject of who could make their breakthrough here, this quarter potentially is the most stacked, With Agnieszka Radwanska still seeking her maiden Slam, and Karolina Pliskova having won the Brisbane title off the back of her first Slam final at the US Open, on paper the smart money would be on the Czech. However if we wind up with that pairing as the quarter-finals – Radwanska has yet to lose to the big serving Pliskova.
The British interest starts here with Naomi Broady opening against Aussie hope Daria Gavrilova. Their head to head is honours even with the latest win going to the Aussie but she had to work for it last year in Birmingham.
A little further down the order is Heather Watson against Sam Stosur. While the Aussie is ranked far higher – the pressure of playing in her home Slam has always been an inhibitor for her. She has only made the R16 twice, and this could well be a winnable match if Watson brings her A-game.
Bottom Quarter – Serena Williams, Dominika Cibulkova
Episode two of ‘who’d be a second seed’ with a rusty and underplayed Williams facing Belinda Bencic in the opening round. Admittedly Bencic has still been juggling with injuries but if she is on form this could be a very tough match-up for Williams.
On the British front, this is where it kicked off for Johanna Konta, as she defends semi-final points. Her first seed is set to be Caroline Wozniacki in the third round, and potentially Dominika Cibulkova in the fourth round so there are challenges there but her start to the year has been befitting of a World Top 10.
The Australian Open starts on 16 January.
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