All eyes will turn to Melbourne over the next fortnight, as Abelson Info take a closer look at the field on the Women’s side of the draw ahead of the Australian Open 2016…
While it may be a new year, little has changed in the sense that world number one Serena Williams remains the face of women’s tennis after an incredible last 12 months.
Although the American star claimed the Australian and French Open titles as well as Wimbledon, she fell short in her quest of the Calendar Slam after being stopped in the last four at the US Open.
The six-time champion in Australia went 53-3 last year, logging her 700th career win and surpassing Chris Evert in third place for most weeks ranked as world number one having held on to the position all year.
As the records continue to tumble, Williams will have to continue to prove that she has the desire to remain at the top, as evidently her skills on the court aren’t in decline as of yet.
However, similarly to many of the top players on the tour, the 34-year-old picked up an injury last week. Her health is a concern, and if her knee issue continues to bother her through the opening weeks of 2016, despite an extended break in recent months, then her rivals will be buoyed by their improved chances of toppling her.
Nevertheless, she isn’t the only one to be suffering fitness wise. Maria Sharapova, Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova and Agniezska Radwanska have all withdrawn from tournaments in the build up to Melbourne, which makes it highly unpredictable when discussing possible winners.
Williams remains the woman to beat, although the usual suspects in Sharapova and Halep will be dangers if they are able to find some consistency. The latter appeared to fall off the pace as the year went in 2015, while rust is always an issue with Sharapova as injuries forced her to sit on the sidelines for long periods.
Further, the Russian still hasn’t shown any sign of being able to defeat Williams as their head-to-head record now reads 2-18 in the American’s favour, as the pair are set to cross paths in the quarter-finals if they both make it that far.
World number four Agnieszka Radwanska has yet to convince us in the major tournaments despite her triumph at the WTA Finals, while question marks still hover around Eugenie Bouchard who endured a torrid year both on and off the court in 2015.
In contrast, Garbine Muguruza will hope to maintain her rise to prominence after sensational progression over the last two years, and youngster Belinda Bencic is a great back-to-lay option as she has all the tools necessary to at least get to the fourth round.
However, former world number one and two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka will be the one to watch.
After two injury-plagued years, the Belarusian has stormed out of the gates this year after claiming her first title since 2013 in Brisbane. Back up to 16th in the world, she’s seemingly got her motivation back and will relish the hard courts in Melbourne.
The 26-year-old has a 75% win rate on this surface dating back to 2004, easily eclipsing her achievements on any other. Having avoided Serena’s half of the draw, her path still isn’t straightforward but it’s enough to suggest that she can pose a serious threat.
As for the hopes of the Australian faithful who will turn out in their droves at Melbourne Park, their hopes will rest with veteran Sam Stosur and Daria Gavrilova, with the latter hoping to build on being named 2015’s WTA Newcomer of the Year.
The title is still Serena’s to lose at this point, and so the smart money would be backing the world number one. However, we’re confident that this could be the start of a big year for Azarenka on her comeback trail.