Even without Wil­liams, women’s field still tough

The Hitavada - - SPORTS - MELBOURNE, Jan 13 (AP)

WITH no Ser­ena Wil­liams in the draw at the Aus­tralian Open, there’s cer­tainly an op­por­tu­nity for another women’s player to go on a sur­pris­ing run and emerge as a first-time Grand Slam cham­pion, as Sloane Stephens and Je­lena Ostapenko did last year.

Just don’t de­scribe the first Grand Slam of the year as “more open” than usual.

“When­ever I get asked that ques­tion, it al­ways comes across in really kind of an al­most neg­a­tive way in­stead of acknowledging how many great play­ers we have,” Jo­hanna Konta, who reached the semi-fi­nals of Wim­ble­don last year, said in her pre-tour­na­ment news con­fer­ence Satur­day.

“The depth in women’s ten­nis I really do be­lieve in the last few years has got­ten so strong,” she added. “There’s no straight sail­ing to the quar­ters or semis. It doesn’t ex­ist.” Stephens agrees the Aus­tralian Open field is still ex­tremely tough, even with Ser­ena Wil­liams, the de­fend­ing cham­pion and 23-time ma­jor win­ner, skipping the tour­na­ment as she con­tin­ues her re­cov­ery from a com­pli­cated child­birth in Septem­ber.

“There’s a lot of great play­ers,” she said. “It’s up for grabs.”

In­deed, any num­ber of women could be hold­ing the tro­phy at Melbourne Park in two weeks. The No. 1-rank­ing changed seven times in 2017, with five dif­fer­ent women as­sum­ing top spot three for the first time.

One of those women, Si­mona Halep, is look­ing to fi­nally break through and win her first ma­jor af­ter twice fin­ish­ing run­ner-up. She won the sea­son-open­ing Shen­zhen Open in China, but has had mixed pre­vi­ous re­sults at Melbourne Park, los­ing in the first round the last two years.

“I don’t feel pres­sure. I feel OK. I feel fit. I feel ready to start,” she said. “I have one more goal: to win a Grand Slam.”

Stephens came out of nowhere to win the US Open last year af­ter a lengthy time out with an in­jury to her left foot. She’s strug­gled to ad­just to the sud­den star­dom that’s come with be­ing a Grand Slam cham­pion” she’s lost seven straight matches since Septem­ber” but be­lieves she can find her game again in Melbourne.

“I think it’s al­ways a tough tran­si­tion when you go from not play­ing ten­nis for 11 months to win­ning a Grand Slam,” she said. “I like to just stay in my own lit­tle bub­ble and do my own thing . ... It’s kind of been what I’m try­ing to do.”

This combo of file pho­tos shows (L to R) Si­mona Halep of Ro­ma­nia; Caro­line Woz­ni­acki of Den­mark; Elina Svi­tolina of Ukraine; Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Repu­bic and Jo­hanna Konta of Bri­tain. (AFP)

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