Globeandmail.com

Women to watch in Melbourne
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By HOWARD FENDRICH
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THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
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Saturday, January 12, 2019 – Print Edition, Page S3


SIMONA HALEP Ranked: 1 Country: Romania Age: 27 2018 match record: 46-11 2018 singles titles: 3 Career singles titles: 18 Grand slam singles titles: 1 Past five Australian Opens: 2018 - runner-up, 2017 - 1st round, 2016 - 1st round, 2015 - quarter-finalist, 2014 - quarter-finalist Aces: Will remain at No. 1 at the end of the Australian Open, regardless of results there, giving her 48 weeks in a row at the top spot.

Topspin: Lost last four matches of 2018 before shutting down in October with a bad back. Will be interesting to see whether anything is lingering from that - or from her off-season split with coach Darren Cahill, who decided to take a break. Halep is still without a coach.

ANGELIQUE KERBER Ranked: 2 Country: Germany Age: 30 (31 on Jan. 18) 2018 match record: 46-19 2018 singles titles: 2 Career singles titles: 12 Grand slam singles titles: 3 Past five Australian Opens: 2018 - semi-finalist, 2017 - 4th round, 2016 - winner, 2015 - 1st round, 2014 - 4th round Aces: Ranked among the top seven players in percentage of break points converted, return points won and return games won in 2018.

Topspin: After a rough 2017, returned to prominence last year with a semi-final run in Melbourne, followed by Wimbledon title and another lengthy stay in Australia would surprise no one for the increasingly aggressive baseliner.

CAROLINE WOZNIACKI Ranked: 3 Country: Denmark Age: 28 2018 match record: 41-17 2018 singles titles: 3 Career singles titles: 30 Grand slam singles titles: 1 Past five Australian Opens: 2018 - winner, 2017 - 3rd round, 2016 - 1st round, 2015 - 2nd round, 2014 - 3rd round Aces: Only woman to rank among the top 10 on tour last year in both percentage of service points won and return points won.

Topspin: After life-altering developments in 2018 - first career Grand Slam trophy in Australia, then diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis - how will she begin 2019?

NAOMI OSAKA Ranked: 4 Country: Japan Age: 21 2018 match record: 40-20 2018 singles titles: 2 Career singles titles: 2 Grand slam singles titles: 1 Past five Australian Opens: 2018 - 4th round, 2017 - 2nd round, 2016- 3rd round, 2015 - did not play, 2014 - did not play Aces: Breakout season included first two WTA titles and run to U.S.

Open trophy in September showed the world what those in tennis have seen for quite some time: She has booming shots and an in-match confidence to match.

Topspin: Some players have trouble adjusting to the added pressure and expectations of being a major champion for the first time; Osaka - aided by coach Sascha Bajin, who used to work with Serena Williams - doesn't seem to be that sort of athlete.

SLOANE STEPHENS Ranked: 5 Country: United States Age: 25 2018 match record: 37-19 2018 singles titles: 1 Career singles titles: 6 Grand slam singles titles: 1 Past five Australian Opens: 2018 - 1st round, 2017 - did not play, 2016 - 1st round, 2015 - 1st round, 2014 - 4th round Aces: Tied for WTA lead in 2018 with five victories over opponents ranked in top 5. First-serve percentage of 69.6 led tour last year.

Topspin: Hasn't won a match in Melbourne since 2014, but was a semi-finalist in 2013 and is a far more complete player nowadays.

Consistency, though, has been an issue: At past six majors, has one title and one runner-up showing - but also three first-round exits.

KAROLINA PLISKOVA Ranked: 7 Country: Czech Republic Age: 26 2018 match record: 49-23 2018 singles titles: 2 Career singles titles: 12 Grand slam singles titles: 0 - best result runner-up, U.S. Open (2016) Past five Australian Opens: 2018 - quarter-finalist, 2017 - quarterfinalist, 2016 - 3rd round, 2015 - 3rd round, 2014 - 2nd round Aces: Topped tour in match wins last season. Ranked No. 2 in aces with 393. Won hard-court tuneup title in Brisbane to open 2019.

Topspin: Superb serve helped her with steady progress in Melbourne; now it might be time to for a repeat run to the last weekend at a hard-court major, something she did in New York a little more than two years ago.

PETRA KVITOVA Ranked: 8 Country: Czech Republic Age: 28 2018 match record: 47-17 2018 singles titles: 5 Career singles titles: 25 Grand slam singles titles: 2 Past five Australian Opens: 2018 - 1st round, 2017 - did not play, 2016 - 2nd round, 2015 - 3rd round, 2014 - 1st round Aces: Led the tour in titles last season; only woman to win trophies on three surfaces (hard, clay, grass).

Topspin: Hasn't been past the third round in Melbourne since reaching the semi-finals for the only time way back in 2012. If the courts are playing fast, that'll be to her advantage.

ARYNA SABALENKA Ranked: 11 Country: Belarus Age: 20 2018 match record: 46-22 2018 singles titles: 2 Career singles titles: 3 Grand slam singles titles: 0 Past five Australian Opens: 2018 - 1st round, 2017 - did not play, 2016 - did not play, 2015 - did not play, 2014 - did not play Aces: Opened season by winning title at Shenzhen, China. Went 21-8 in 3-setters last year, the most such wins on tour.

Topspin: Huge serve, groundstrokes quickly turned her into someone to keep an eye on as she quickly rose in rankings after beginning 2018 at No. 78.

ASHLEIGH BARTY Ranked: 15 Country: Australia Age: 22 2018 match record: 46-19 2018 singles titles: 2 Career singles titles: 3 Grand slam singles titles: 0 Past five Australian Opens: 2018 - 3rd round, 2017 - 3rd round, 2016 - did not play, 2015 - did not play, 2014 - 1st round Aces: Was No. 1 on tour last season in percentage of service points won, at 63.5.

Topspin: An emerging talent who could give the home fans something to get excited about.

SERENA WILLIAMS Ranked: 16 Country: United States Age: 37 2018 match record: 18-6 2018 singles titles: 0 Career singles titles: 72 Grand slam singles titles: 23 Past five Australian Opens: 2018 - did not play, 2017 - winner, 2016 - runner-up, 2015 - winner, 2014 - 4th round Aces: Picked up No. 7 in Melbourne while pregnant. That also gave her 23 majors in all, a record for the professional era and one shy of Margaret Court's all-time record.

Topspin: After taking time off to have a baby and dealing with a health scare during childbirth, Williams reached two Slam finals in 2018.


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