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Australian Open 2019 draw preview and predictions - Serena Williams and Simona Halep land in same, loaded quarter

Hannah Wilks in WTA Tour 10 Jan 2019
  • Australian Open 2019 women's draw analysis & predictions
  • Serena Williams, Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova in the same quarter
  • Angelique Kerber could be the major beneficiary of lopsided draw
Serena Williams is looking for her eighth Australian Open title when the 2019 edition begins on Monday 14 January (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

Are Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber headed for another Grand Slam final clash at the 2019 Australian Open?

The draw for the 2019 Australian Open is out and we are analyzing it in depth and predicting the champion.

Serena Williams is hunting for an incredible eighth Australian Open title and a record-tying 24th major title, but she’s landed in a packed quarter with the likes of Simona Halep, Karolina Pliskova and her sister Venus Williams. 

US Open champion Naomi Osaka and Elina Svitolina, each with something to prove, could be headed for a quarterfinal clash, while the bottom half of the draw finds 2016 Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber looking very strong indeed – unless Sloane Stephens can find some form in stunning style – and defending champion Caroline Wozniacki contemplating clashes with Maria Sharapova, Aryna Sabalenka and Petra Kvitova. 

Top quarter: The quarter of death

Projected quarterfinal: Simona Halep (1) vs Karolina Pliskova (7) (6-2)

Also in this quarter: Daria Kasatkina (10), Serena Williams (16), Garbine Muguruza (18), Venus Williams, Kaia Kanepi, Eugenie Bouchard

First-round matches to watch: Halep (1) vs Kanepi, Venus Williams vs Mihaela Buzarnescu (25), Bouchard vs Peng Shuai (WC), Kasatkina (10) vs Timea Bacsinszky

If you can lose a tournament when the draw is released, Simona Halep just did. The 2018 finalist already had to contend with imperfect preparation – she’s played just one match in 2019, a straight-sets defeat to Ashleigh Barty in Sydney, and hasn’t won a match since August – and now she’s been handed a nightmare draw, starting with a first-round encounter with the same woman who knocked her out of the US Open in the first round last year, six-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist Kaia Kanepi.

Simona Halep (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
There’s hope for Halep in the fact that Kanepi hasn’t played a match herself since the US Open, but the draw doesn’t get any kinder for the top seed. An unseeded Venus Williams, who looked energized in Auckland, is a potential third-round opponent, as is 25th seed Mihaela Buzarnescu; and her probable fourth-round opponent is Serena Williams.

Seven-time champion Williams, playing the tournament for the first time since winning the title in 2017, opens against Germany’s Tatjana Maria and could face Eugenie Bouchard in the second round, with Carla Suarez Navarro – who hasn’t taken a set from Serena in six previous meetings – a projected third-round opponent. It’s a solid draw for Williams to play herself into form, something she has grown expert at doing, before a potential fourth-round clash with Halep (or, perhaps more likely, Kanepi or Venus).

It used to be that the best time to face Williams at a major was in the early rounds, but that script was flipped in 2018, when Williams played herself into form at both Wimbledon and the US Open only to struggle badly in the final. If she’s fit, I don’t see her being stopped before the quarterfinals.

Seventh seed Karolina Pliskova, who looked good in winning the Brisbane International title last week, is the obvious contender to meet Williams there. The hard-hitting Camila Giorgi could await in the third round, and there are a slew of solid opponents in the section that will provide her fourth-round opponent: Tenth seed Daria Kasatkina, or her opening opponent, former French Open semifinalist Timea Bacsinszky, who’s showing flickers of her old self after a lengthy injury layoff; former semifinalist Johanna Konta or her first-round opponent, Ajla Tomljanovic; and lastly two-time Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza, who is out of the top 10 after a dire 2018 (and has pulled out of two events already this season with injury and illness) but is too good a player not to rebound at some point. But none of those players are on any real form and Pliskova failing to make it to the quarterfinals would be a surprise. She could be the first really serious test for Williams.

Semifinalist: Serena Williams

Second quarter: The proving ground


Projected quarterfinal: Naomi Osaka (4) vs Elina Svitolina (6) (2-3)

Also in this quarter: Elise Mertens (12), Madison Keys (17), Wang Qiang (21), Victoria Azarenka

First-round matches to watch: Dominika Cibulkova (26) vs Zhang Shuai, Azarenka vs Laura Siegemund, Keys (17) vs Destanee Aiava

After the packed first quarter, this one feels almost empty – and like it holds plenty of opportunity for both Naomi Osaka and Elina Svitolina. 

Both top seeds in this quarter have a lot to prove: Osaka must try to back up her US Open win and prove it wasn’t a fluke even if it was attended by controversial circumstances, while WTA Finals Singapore champion Svitolina must show that she is a real contender for major titles.

Naomi Osaka (ASANKA BRENDON RATNAYAKE/AFP/Getty Images)
Opening against Magda Linette, Osaka could start to have a fiery time of it in the second round if she faces feisty home favourite Daria Gavrilova, and the third round could hold either a clash with two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka – still searching for anything like her best form after major interruptions to her career – or the immensely tricky Su-Wei Hsieh, who wreaked havoc with seeds at the Australian Open and Wimbledon last year. In the fourth round, she’s likely to face either US Open semifinalist Anastasija Sevastova – always crafty and dangerous, but beaten by Osaka in Brisbane – or Wang Qiang, who put together an incredible late-season run on Asian hard courts last year which saw her climb from world no. 78 to world no. 22. I’m very curious to see if Wang, with a nice draw, can bring that form from China to the Grand Slam of Asia-Pacific; if so, she could be very well positioned.

All in all, Osaka’s path is littered with not the power players she prefers to play, but those with great defensive capabilities and a lot of variety, which is a recipe for disaster if the US Open champion is not feeling confident – but also an opportunity for her to record statement wins in week one. 

For Svitolina, things look slightly simpler. She opens against a qualifier and could face Auckland semifinalist Viktoria Kuzmova in the second round, and should be wary of former finalist Dominika Cibulkova in the third. Madison Keys could await in the round of 16, or Elise Mertens, who knocked her out in last year’s Australian Open quarterfinals (Svitolina said afterwards that she was injured). But if Svitolina can’t make the semifinals with this draw, it will be a blow to her credibility as a potential Grand Slam contender.

Semifinalist: Svitolina


Third quarter: Aryna Sabalenka's moment?

Projected quarterfinal: Petra Kvitova (8) vs Caroline Wozniacki (3) (8-6)

Also in this quarter: Aryna Sabalenka (11), Ashleigh Barty (15), Jelena Ostapenko (22), Maria Sharapova (30), Ekaterina Makarova, Belinda Bencic

First-round matches to watch: Bencic vs Katerina Siniakova, Ostapenko (22) vs Maria Sakkari, Wozniacki (3) vs Alison van Uytvanck

Hopes aren’t too high for Caroline Wozniacki’s chances of defending her title, not least because of her admission that she’s been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and her defeat to Bianca Andreescu in Auckland in the run-up to the Australian Open. 

Caroline Wozniacki (ASANKA BRENDON RATNAYAKE/AFP/Getty Images)
And the draw hasn’t done her any particular favours. She opens against Alison van Uytvanck, who’s streaky as anything but capable of stunning tennis on her day (as she demonstrated when she knocked Muguruza out of Wimbledon last year) and could be headed for a third-round blockbuster against Maria Sharapova, whose physical condition is also questionable – she retired in Shenzhen with a left thigh injury and, more worryingly, had her right shoulder taped – but who has a couple of soft rounds to play herself into some form and a 6-4 record against Wozniacki, although they haven’t played since 2015.

Ashleigh Barty, who continues to inch upward towards the top 10 and who scored an eye-catching win over Halep on her way to the Sydney semifinals this week, is the biggest threat to the Wozniacki/Sharapova winner, with former top-10 player Jelena Ostapenko struggling for form (she went 0-2 in Shenzhen and Sydney, and opens against confident Greek Maria Sakkari). Indeed, Barty is a credible pick for quarterfinalist in this section.

At the top, Petra Kvitova will struggle to overcome her recent Grand Slam woes: The two-time Wimbledon champion opens against the tricky Magdalena Rybarikova and could face Andrea Petkovic, who knocked her out in round one last year, in the second, with a packed little mini-section of tough opponents – Belinda Bencic, Yulia Putintseva, or compatriots Katerina Siniakova and Barbora Strycova – providing her third-round opponent. I don’t see Kvitova getting far, and if she does, she could have to contend with Aryna Sabalenka – who knocked her out of the US Open – in the fourth. 

Sabalenka is the big question mark in this quarter. The world no. 11, who already has a title for 2019 in Shenzhen, has a tough second-round match against Ekaterina Makarova, a former Grand Slam semifinalist and perennial dangerous floater; but if she gets through that, even with Brisbane runner-up Lesia Tsurenko in the third round, the Belarusian could dominate this quarter. It’s a big ‘if’, though; Makarova is dangerous.

Semifinalist: Barty

Fourth quarter: Kerber's to lose


Projected quarterfinal: Sloane Stephens (5) vs Angelique Kerber (2) (5-1)

Also in this quarter: Kiki Bertens (9), Julia Goerges (14), Aliaksandra Sasnovich, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

First-round matches to watch: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs Monica Puig, Donna Vekic vs Kristina Mladenovic

If there was a loser in the Australian Open 2019 draw, it was Simona Halep; if there was a winner, it was Angelique Kerber. 

Since winning her maiden Grand Slam title there in 2016, Kerber has reliably performed well in Melbourne; even during her nightmare 2017 season, she made the quarterfinals, and last year she was only stopped from reaching the final by a marathon effort from Halep. Back in 2019 as the world no. 2 and reigning Wimbledon champion, Kerber has warmed up in similar fashion to 2018 by going 4-0 in singles at the Hopman Cup and, at the time of writing, is still in contention to defend her Sydney title.

Angelique Kerber  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
The stage does seem set for the German to make another deep run, and the draw seems to have complied. Kerber opens against Polona Hercog and should meet the much-improved (but still short on wins against the top 10) Donna Vekic in the third round, who would need a stellar serving performance to beat Kerber. 

Her sternest potential test could come against Julia Goerges, who is coming off both a career-best 2018 which included a first Grand Slam semifinal at Wimbledon, and a bright start to 2019 with a successful defense of her Auckland title. The two have not met on the WTA Tour since 2012 and it would be an intriguing clash, but like Vekic, Goerges would need an unbelievably good serving day to beat Kerber, I think. 

At the top of this quarter, US Open champion Sloane Stephens will be trying to avoid a fourth consecutive first-round exit from the Australian Open – and hasn’t given herself the best opportunity to do so, suffering a demoralizing defeat to Yulia Putintseva after serving for the match in Sydney. Facing compatriot Taylor Townsend in the first round, followed by a likely clash with Ons Jabeur, is probably about the best Stephens could have hoped for from the draw, but Petra Martic (or Marketa Vondrousova) could be tricky in the third round.

Stephens doesn’t have form, but she does have a draw that might let her play herself into form. Ninth seed Kiki Bertens will need to be on it from the off, opening against Shenzhen finalist Alison Riske with either Monica Puig or, more likely, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova – a former quarterfinalist, surprisingly unseeded this year – in the second round, and either rising power hitter Anett Kontaveit or the superbly tricky Aliaksandra Sasnovich, who loves a fast and/or Australian hard court, in the third. Bertens will have done very well if she can get through this, but the quarter belongs to Kerber – unless Stephens can pull herself together. 

Semifinalist: Kerber 


Semifinals: Serena d. Svitolina
Kerber d. Barty

Final: Serena d. Kerber


What do you think of our predictions? Let us know on twitter! 

Australian Open tennis is live from Melbourne from 14-27 January


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Australian Open 2019 draw preview and predictions - Serena Williams and Simona Halep land in same, loaded quarter

The women’s draw for the 2019 Australian Open sees Angelique Kerber positioned for a run to the final while the Williams sisters, top seed Simona Halep and more land in the same packed quarter

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