It was just a few months ago when the 2014 season ended, but tennis is a year-round sport, and as the calendar flipped to 2015, the world’s top men and women made their way to Asia and Oceania to prepare themselves for the first major of the new season in Melbourne. The Australian Open in the last decade or so has generally been the most unstable of the four majors, with players making deep runs that look more like outliers in their careers than a sign of things to come. And with good reason: the lead-up to the first major is two weeks of minor events and a series of exhibitions. There isn’t much to go by in terms of “who’s in form”. It’s more of “who prepared the best during the offseason”, and that’s a question that can’t be truly answered until the event gets started.
Here at BadManBureau, we’ll help sort out the draws of this first major so you can be prepared about just who might be ending the two weeks with the trophy in hand. We start, as always, with the women’s side.
Seeds: (1) Serena Williams, (15) Jelena Jankovic, (24) Garbine Muguruza, (26) Elina Svitolina
Serena is the top seed here, but she looked bad in Perth for the Hopman Cup. However, you put stock into exhibition results at your own risk, especially with a player like Serena, who has performed badly at actual events with ranking points on the line only to win the major that followed those small tournaments. Here she’s got a decent draw that shouldn’t trouble her too badly. She uses the first week of a major, especially at the Australian, to get herself into her destroyer-of-worlds form for the stretch run. She’ll have an opportunity here with former world number 2 Vera Zvonareva lurking in the second round and possibly the most under-the-radar highly ranked youngster in Elina Svitolina as a third round opponent.
The lower half has names, including the woman who stunningly knocked Serena out of the French Open last year in Garbine Muguruza and former world number one Jelena Jankovic (who has wins over Serena in her career). Both stumbled to end 2014 though, and it’s uncertain to know if they’ve recovered from their bumpy period last year. If they don’t, a player that could take advantage is the immortal Kimiko Date-Krumm, who at age 44(!!!), is still getting direct entry to majors.
Quarterfinalist: Serena Williams
Seeds: (8) Caroline Wozniacki, (11) Dominika Cibulkova, (19) Alize Cornet, (25) Barbora Zahlavova Strycova
The bottom of this section has two incredibly exciting matchups. We’ll start with Caroline’s match. Wozniacki has been on a tear since her broken engagement to Rory McIlroy, and she did reach the final in Auckland, even taking the first set before falling to Venus Williams. But she’s also coming in with a slight wrist injury suffered in her first round retirement in Sydney this week. She’s up against young American Taylor Townsend, who has been steadily climbing up the rankings and proving she’s a future force to be reckoned with. She’s now in the Top 100, and with a lefty game combined with power strokes, she could prove to give Wozniacki a good workout in the first round. The winner of this match gets the winner of the Victoria Azarenka-Sloane Stephens encounter. These two have now played for three straight years in Melbourne (semis in 2013, fourth round in 2014 previously), and both have gone Azarenka’s way. Neither player is seeded (Azarenka due to injuries; Sloane due to tactics), which is disappointing for not only the players but those in the draw around them, as they have proven they can make massive amounts of damage in the draw.
Let’s not forget that the top of this section also features last year’s finalist in Dominika Cibulkova. She’s got a strange draw with former Wimbledon finalists in Kirsten Flipkens and Tsvetsana Pironkova as potential back-to-back opponents. Alize Cornet also sits here; she revived her career as a top player last season, including multiple victories over Serena that season.
Quarterfinalist: Caroline Wozniacki
Seeds: (4) Petra Kvitova, (13) Andrea Petkovic, (20) Samantha Stosur, (29) Casey Dellacqua
Kvitova looks like the obvious pick to make it through, especially after winning the title in Sydney this week, but as with the case with Petra, it seems whenever she looks like the overwhelming pick, she’s liable to an early upset. She could suffer it in the second round with either Donna Vekic or Mona Barthel, both players who hit the ball very hard. Casey Dellacqua was the sensation of the Australian fans last year, but the last time she produced a memorable result at the Australian Open (last year was her second Round of 16 appearance), she crashed out in the first round the next year. If Madison Keys is healthy—and focused—she could enjoy real success in this area.
The other Aussie is here in Sam Stosur, but Australians know the story by now: don’t bet on her in Melbourne. Sam simply chokes at her home events, and the excellent server could find herself gone after the first round against the slicing-and-dicing, tricky Romanian Monica Niculescu. Some tall hard-hitters lurk as unseeded players, and both could find themselves in the fourth round if things fall right. Kaia Kanepi is always good for one good major result a year, though she did withdraw from her event this week with an injury. Coco Vandeweghe is at a career high, just barely missing out on a seed at 37, and she’s looking for her first ever win in Melbourne. She faces off against the Italian Francesca Schiavone, a former French Open champion whose best days, sadly, are well behind her. Though Kvitova looks to be the safe choice, I’ll go with an out-of-the-box one.
Quarterfinalist: Coco Vandeweghe
Seeds: (5) Agnieszka Radwanska, (12) Flavia Pennetta, (18) Venus Williams, (30) Varvara Lepchenko
Radwanska returns to Melbroune, a place where she left last year with a bad taste in her mouth. She dismantled Victoria Azarenka, the defending champion, in the quarterfinals and was never closer to winning her maiden major title (yes, she reached the Wimbledon final before, but in terms of the players around her, Aggie had to think last year’s Australian Open was her best chance at raising the trophy). Instead, she unceremoniously crashed out to Dominika Cibulkova, letting an excellent opportunity slip from her grip. She played well in Perth, and she’s got a comfortable start to her campaign, with some players that she should beat comfortably.
Radwanska’s problem may lie on the other side of this section. The elder Williams sister has rejuvenated her career of late, capping it off with a come-from-behind victory over Caroline Wozniacki in Auckland a week ago to win the title there. Venus shouldn’t have a problem in her first two rounds, but then she could take on an Italian in the third round that prove difficult. Pennetta is the seeded player, but she’s been tentatively hanging on to her ranking, peaking at the right events to obtain her lofty ranking. However, Camila Giorgi could best her. The younger Italian in this first round encounter has a flair for the dramatic (and what’s more dramatic than two Italians playing each other?) and can smack the ball with force.
Quarterfinalist: Agnieszka Radwanska
Seeds: (5) Ana Ivanovic, (10) Ekaterina Makarova, (22) Karolina Pliskova, (32) Belinda Bencic
It’s okay if you didn’t realize Ivanovic or Makarova were this highly ranked; I didn’t either. (Kudos to Ivanovic for returning to the form that made her so dangerous almost a full decade ago. She may not have been ready for the pressures of being a major champion and world number one, but she is also clearly better than when she was at her worst with all of the double faults and uncertainty). It’s also okay if you don’t know who Pliskova or Bencic are; both players had very successful 2014 seasons (Bencic reached the quarterfinals of the US Open in her first appearance). With that being said, there isn’t really anyone from the unseeded ranks that can stop these seeds from facing off from one another.
If there is one player who can throw a wrench in the seeds matching up in the third round, it’s the American Alison Riske. It’s been quite an evolution for Riske, who just a few years ago could only win on the grass courts in Birmingham, England. Now she can win matches on every surface, and she recently claimed her first career title last fall. She’s got a funky forehand, and she can grunt with an annoying tone, but she can also hit the ball hard and with angles.
Quarterfinalist: Ana Ivanovic
Seeds: (3) Simona Halep, (14) Sara Errani, (23) Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, (28) Sabine Lisicki
The top part of this section looks wide open: Errani’s skills have been degrading in the last year or so, and Pavlyuchenkova appears content to be a third-round-and-out kind of player in majors. However, there aren’t really any other players in this section who appear capable of stepping up to make a second-week run here. It’s full of counterpunchers and young-and-untested players. Because of that, Errani may be able to simply play okay enough tennis to get to the fourth round.
Halep sits at the bottom of the bracket here, and she’s certainly validated her lofty ranking based on her 2014 results. She’s also got a pretty easy draw here: Sabine Lisicki can boom her serve, but she’s also a grass-court specialist. Kristina Mladenovic revived her career in 2014, but she’s still too inconsistent. Bethanie Mattek-Sands is a former top thirty player, but she’s also returning from a lengthy injury layoff. And Jarmila Gajdosova is a powerful hitter, but she’s also self-combustible.
Quarterfinalist: Simona Halep
Seeds: (7) Eugenie Bouchard, (9) Angelique Kerber, (17) Carla Suarez Navarro, (27) Svetlana Kuznetsova
Last year’s breakout superstar of tennis, Eugenie Bouchard, returns to the place where she captured the eyes and hearts of so many tennis fans (and males). She’s defending semifinal points from last year, so the question is whether she can handle the pressure of successfully defending those points. She could get some trouble against Kiki Bertens in the second round; Bertens can simply smack the cover off the ball, and if she’s on, she could give Bouchard trouble. Her potential third round opponent could be either from a first-round matchup between former major champion Kuznetsova or rising young Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia. Either won’t be an easy out.
It’s difficult to make heads-or-tails of the other top seed here. Kerber continues to hang on as a top ten player, but her 2014 season was a disappointment. She can thankfully ease into this first major, but she could find herself in real trouble against her third round opponent if the other seed gets that far. Carla Suarez Navarro, she of the most beautiful one-handed backhand in the women’s game, is capable of second-week runs in majors, and she’s got the ability to pull the upset.
Quarterfinalist: Eugenie Bouchard
Seeds: (2) Maria Sharapova, (16) Lucie Safarova, (21) Shuai Peng, (31) Zarina Diyas
It’s fair to wonder if Maria Sharapova has regrets over her results in the last few Australian Opens. In the last two years after Serena’s lost, Maria has appeared to be the favorite to take the title as a result. However, both times, she hasn’t capitalized, falling to an opponent that takes advantage of the moment against the now five-time major champion. It’s certainly not going to be easy for her from the start: she’s got Petra Martic, a player who is a heavy and hard hitter, though she went through a terrible 2014 season. Potential second-round opponent Sorana Cirstea has a devastating forehand as well.
Lucie Safarova is the other top seed here, and she is definitely no slouch herself. But she’s got to be prepared from the start, as she faces off against the big serve and big forehand of Yaroslava Shvedova. There are also a couple of promising youngsters here: Monica Puig will look to rebound from a disappointing 2014 season but is a capable counterpuncher, and Ana Konjuh is quietly making her way up the rankings as a future force.
Quarterfinalist: Maria Sharapova
And your 2015 Australian Open champion is…
It seems to be a cop-out to go with the world number one. It seems a cop-out to go with Serena. But after what’s happened the last two years in Melbourne, it also seems foolish to go against Serena to take this title. If she can get to the quarterfinals, she’ll be extra motivated to claim her sixth Australian Open trophy, and her opposition will know it. Though she’s friends with Caroline and has lost to her before, Serena will want to dictate tempo and dominate as she did in the 2014 US Open final. From there, she’d likely take on Agnieszka Radwanska. Radwanska will have some confidence from her Hopman Cup win over Serena, but Serena is never one to let her opponent repeat a win over her, even in a exhibition. Then, in the final, against any opponent (I’ll say that Maria battles past Bouchard and then Halep), it’ll be the same result for those two champions: Serena likely to win easily and comfortably.