Australian Open 2015 Preview: What Is The State Of The Women’s Game?

January 19, 2015 3:14 pm

The Usual Suspects

Australian Open 2015

Old school rivals: Williams and Sharapova share the stage at the French Open 2013

Whilst the men’s game might have the Big Four, the women’s game has enjoyed a more varied list of champions in the past few years. But it’s fair to say that if you had to pick players who would be considered comparable to the Big Four, eighteen-time grand slam champ Serena Williams (1) and five-time grand slam champ Maria Sharapova (2) would be up there. Sharapova won 3 WTA titles last year and the French Open whilst Serena won 6 and the US Open as well as winning the tour finals.

Both players can be awkwardly inconsistent at times and so it’s always difficult to predict how far they will go in the majors. Serena, especially, has been the victim of a number of memorable losses in grand slams. Last year, she suffered shock defeats to Muguruza and Cornet in the French Open and Wimbledon, respectively. It’s when these players let their guard down or suffer an erratic loss of form that other women surge forward and capitalise on any given opportunity. And so the outcome of this slam will depend completely on whether Sharapova and Williams keep their focus and use their expertise against the newcomers to deliver their trademark grand slam winning strategies.

The Next Generation

Last year, there was a whole host of new, young players impressing us throughout the season from every corner of the globe. The result? The potential for an explosive 2015 with some new grand slam champions by the end of it. But what are these players looking like going into the first slam of the year and are any of them primed to seize the crown early?

Australian Open 2015

Bouchard and Halep shake hands after meeting in the Wimbledon Semifinals

Perhaps the best player not to win a slam last year, Simona Halep (3) has started 2015 in cracking form by winning her 9th WTA title. She seized the public’s attention in 2014 with a French Open final appearance where she lost to Maria Sharapova. She also made the QFs of the Australian and the SFs of Wimbledon and all her hard work paid off as she qualified for the WTA tour finals. Here, she managed the impressive feat of handing Serena Williams her worst loss since she was 16 in the round robin stages (6-0 6-2)! Having already won the Shenzhen Open this year, Halep looks to be in the perfect position to do very well in Australia.

The most exciting up-and-comer from last year has to be Eugenie Bouchard (7). Whilst she might not be as high in the rankings as Halep, she had an impressive year when it came to performing in the slams and promises that she will do better this year. In 2014, she won her maiden WTA title and made the SF, SF, Final and 4R of each slam in that order. She has parted from long-term coach, Nick Saviano, citing as her reason that she feels she cannot get any better under his guidance and is looking for the next step up in her game. She is arguably the most determined and motivated player on the tour right now and she will undoubtedly go far in this year’s opening Major.

Other notable new players to look out for include Madison Keys (33) and Ekaterina Makarova (10). Keys has acquired former world number one and three-time grand slam champion, Lindsay Davenport, as her coach for this season. This could result in a more reliable game from Keys who has suffered from a frustrating level of inconsistency in the past. The biggest question, though, will be if the 19 yr old is fit enough after she retired from the Apia International in the 2nd round. Makarova isn’t coming into this tournament in the best form either. However, you can’t forget the fact that she has made the QFs here twice before, and has beaten Serena to get there as well. Combine this with the fact that she managed to make the SF of the US in 2014 and you can expect to see Makarova make the second week of Australia this year.

New Lease of Life?

As if the field couldn’t be any more wide-open in the women’s game this year, what’s remarkable is that there are numerous players enjoying a renaissance on the tour and are starting to pose genuine threats all over again.

This particularly applies to seven-time grand slam champion Venus Williams (18). Whilst she only managed to win one WTA title last year (Dubai), she made a lot of finals and had some big wins, helping her claw her way back into the top 20. She looks in great shape coming into the Australian Open, having already taken a WTA title this year by beating Wozniacki in Auckland. If she can keep it up, Venus could make the second week of a slam for the first time in four years.

Australian Open 2015

Ana Ivanovic

Another playing enjoying a surprising return to form is Ana Ivanovic (5). She made the QFs here last year but did not manage to go further than that in a slam for the rest of 2014. She did, however, win an astonishing 9 WTA titles which explains why she is ranked 5th in the world coming into the Australian. She has spoken of a hunger for another slam title and has started well by making it to the finals in Brisbane before losing to Sharapova. Can she convert this ambition and upset any fellow grand slam champions this year?

Despite being a two-time Australian Open champion, Victoria Azarenka (41) will be unseeded coming into the championship this year. This is largely due to a patchy and injury-stricken 2014 that restricted her to playing just 24 matches. The player has also talked about dealing with depression after her public break-up with musician, Red Foo but declares she is over it and ready to have a great season. If she can focus on her game and sustain her mental strength, she will be in the second week of this slam.

Of course, there are many other players who could realistically make it all the way this year. The women’s game has seen its draw decimated by unseeded players in the past. You only have to look to the US Open 2014, where seeds 2,3,4,6 ad 8 all went out before the fourth round. Some might characterise this as a lack of consistency in the women’s game while others would argue it’s a result of inspirational young players always pushing the top seeds and keeping them on their toes. Whichever way you look at it, it always makes for dramatic and interesting tennis that we can’t wait to start on Monday.

Who do you think will do well this year? Have we missed anyone here? Let us know by leaving your thoughts and predictions in the comments section!

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