Race for women’s ti­tle wide open

NewsMail - - AUSTRALIAN OPEN -

IT SEEMS too sim­plis­tic to say that, without Ser­ena Wil­liams, it’s any­one’s Aus­tralian Open.

But the bet­ting mar­kets tell another story.

In­deed, it’s no co­in­ci­dence that Wil­liams’ with­drawal from the event co­in­cides with one of the most open women’s draws at the first grand slam of 2018.

Karolina Pliskova ($8) and Gar­bine Mugu­ruza ($8) are the long­est-priced favourites in re­cent his­tory – and by a fair mar­gin.

In fact, the Czech and Spa­niard are al­most dou­ble the odds that were of­fered for joint favourites Wil­liams and Kim Kli­jsters ($3.75) in 2010.

That Mugu­ruza, who is un­der an in­jury cloud, re­mains a favourite speaks vol­umes.

Amer­i­can Madi­son Keys said that any­one within the “top-30” was a real chance of tak­ing home the sil­ver­ware.

“Ob­vi­ously Ser­ena’s not play­ing, which is a mas­sive fac­tor,” Keys said. “But I think ev­ery­one is play­ing great ten­nis. I think any­one, in any week, could be the one to lift the tro­phy.”

Last year’s Bri­tish quar­ter-fi­nal­ist Jo­hanna Konta is in the same quar­ter as top seed Si­mona Halep and faces Amer­i­can Madi­son Bren­gle first up.

Dan­ish former world num­ber one Caro­line Woz­ni­acki, the sec­ond seed af­ter her resur­gence in 2017 when she reached eight fi­nals, opens against Mi­haela Buzarnescu of Ro­ma­nia in the bot­tom half of the draw.

Woz­ni­acki is pro­jected to face French Open cham­pion Je­lena Ostapenko of Latvia in the quar­ters.

Wim­ble­don cham­pion Mugu­ruza is in the same half of the draw as Halep and takes on France’s Jes­sika Ponchet in the open­ing round.

Mugu­ruza, seeded three, could face another French­woman, Caro­line Gar­cia, in the quar­ters.

The 2008 cham­pion Maria Shara­pova, who on Mon­day moved back into the world’s top 50 for the first time since re­turn­ing from a 15-month dop­ing ban, is un­seeded and takes on 47th-ranked Ger­man Tat­jana Maria in the first round in the same sec­tion of the draw.

Evergreen 37-year-old Venus Wil­liams, who last won a Slam in 2008, is seeded five and has a first-round en­counter with Swiss Belinda Ben­cic, who teamed up with Roger Fed­erer to win the mixed teams Hop­man Cup in Perth last week.

PHOTO GETTY IM­AGES

IN-FORM: Elina Svi­tolina dur­ing her win over Karolina Pliskova in the Bris­bane In­ter­na­tional fi­nal.

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