tennis

The Australian Open: A Look at the Female Contenders

January 14, 2017

- Grant Whittington

The world of women’s tennis was turned upside down recently, when the world number 11 Petra Kvitova was attacked in her home and left with a damaged hand. The two-time Wimbledon winner, who last prevailed at the All England Club as recently as 2014, will now miss the Australian Open as she begins her recovery after surgery.

Make no mistake; Kvitova’s high-risk game is tailor-made for the hard courts of Melbourne, while her form towards the end of 2016 would have made her a genuine contender for the title. Her absence will open up the field for the remainder of the contenders, however, with several players likely to compete aggressively for the first major of the New Year.

Will Williams Return to the Summit, or Can Kerber Continue her Run?

One of these is Serena Williams, who started last year as the dominant player in the woman’s game. Despite this, victory at Wimbledon represented her sole Grand Slam success in 2016, as German star Angelique Kerber became increasingly dominated and usurped the America as world number one. So while Williams was able to draw level with Steffi Graf’s impressive haul of 22 Grand Slam titles at Wimbledon in the summer, she will start 2017 with a renewed hunger to make history for and her family name.

It is the pedigree of Williams and her renowned fighting spirit that has helped to establish her as a narrow Australian Open favourite at 5/2, but a buoyant Kerber is not far behind at 4/1. The German, who is also the defending champion after winning her debut Slam in Australia last January,   remains supremely confident while she continues to showcase the newly-acquired mental fortitude that served her so well in 2016. Given that she had failed to progress beyond the quarter final of a major tournament prior to last year, however, it has yet to be seen whether she can maintain her level consistently.

Also in contention is world number three Agnieszka Radwanska, who remains one of the most consistent and naturally gifted players on the tour. Despite this, she has yet to win her maiden Grand Slam, with many citing a fundamental lack of power as one of the main reasons for her failures at the very highest level. All-too-often she is overwhelmed by one of the game’s dominant power hitters, so she will need to be at her brilliant and talented best if she is to prevail on the unforgiving, Australian hard courts.

Can Konta Challenge for her First Grand Slam?

Britain’s own Johanna Konta will also be hoping to win her maiden Slam, after a stellar season during which she breached the top 10 in the world for the very first time. While she may have missed out on a place in the WTA World Tour Finals, she was voted as the most improved player on the tour last season and has already won her first match on the New Year. A major title tilt may have come too soon for the Australian-born Konta, however, even if she did manage to reach the semi-finals here in 2016.

While there are several players who may ultimately challenge in Melbourne, form and recent history suggest that Kerber and Williams will be the players to beat. With the latter pursuing a place in history, however, few would bet against Williams claiming her 23rd major title and reclaiming her place at the top of the women’s game.

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