'Enjoying Hopman Cup last with Federer, Bencic was thrilling' – Kerber https://t.co/AvxjcnpQhS pic.twitter.com/XXpynKpr5T— punga007 (@punga127) January 7, 2019
The first major of the year may be the hardest for which we can attempt to predict a champion. There are all those holdover injuries and slumps, but also all of those holdover good feelings and gains in confidence. The WTA tour is nothing if not unpredictable, though, and she who was slumping could end up doing well, while she who was winning may be struck with the fear of both expectation and success.
There are, of course, a few women who "should" win the Autralian Open, but who are probably more contenders on paper rather than in reality. That list includes (sadly) Petra Kvitova and defending champion Caroline Wozniacki.
Some might put 2018 runner-up Simona Halep on the list, but I think of her more as a real contender. Despite having no coach, Halep has her game plus some new confidence that she'll bring to the season's first major. The world number 1 has reportedly recovered from a back injury that took her out of the 2018 WTA Finals. Assuming that recovery is authentic, I like the Romanian's chances to make a deep run.
I also like Karolina Pliskova's chances. The Brisbane champion, coached by Aussie Rennae Stubbs (who will radiate all kinds of Aussie good vibes for the Long Tall One), didn't come through with the big title that many thought she would grab last season, but there's every reason to believe that she's close to doing just that.
It goes without saying that one should never, ever count out Serena Williams, and--considering that she's still a woman on a mission--there's every reason to believe that Williams can lift her eighth (!) Australian Open trophy.
I'm also looking at 2016 champion Angie Kerber, who did some very fancy playing at this year's Hopman Cup. It's going to be very hard to beat Kerber in Melbourne, and her draw interests me possibly more than anyone's.
Elina Svitolina is also poised to do something big. Yes, she (as top seed and defending champion) went out in the second round in Brisbane, but it wasn't exactly a routine loss; her opponent came at her gangbusters style. Svitlolina, in her careful, plodding way, may get to just semis at majors this year, but she could also win one, and why not the Australian Open?
And finally, as irrational as it may sound, I toss in the name Garbine Muguruza. We all know that the mercurial Spaniard could go out in he first round. She could also win the whole thing--such is the "success range" of the tour's official Mystery Woman. Muguruza sometimes has a hard time "feeling it," but when she does feel it, she plays some of the most beautifully fluid tennis you'll see anywhere, any time. Like Petra Kvitova, the world number 18 (!) has everything it takes to win everything there is, but she often just isn't up to the task.
Expect multiple upsets. That's because the tour is now brimming over with young players (and a few suddenly-dangerous veterans) who can make life miserable for higher-ranked, and even elite, players. I won't name them--the list is too long--but they will shape the draw in Melbourne, and heads will roll.
Players who could make a deep run include Auckland champion Julia Goerges, Arnya Sabalenka, Naomi Osaka, Ash Barty, maybe Kiki Bertens, and a few of those red-hot younger players and veterans who may be able to pull multiple upsets. (Sabalenka is one of those younger players, but I put her in a more "certain" category because of her court mentality.)
The doubles draw should be equally unpredictable, as new teams emerge as elite, and as team members are shuffled around.