Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki headline women's field targeting major success at Australian Open
We profile five players targeting Grand Slam success at the year’s opening major in Melbourne.
By Mathieu Wood
Last Updated: 12/01/18 10:55pm
With the new season barely underway, attention turns to the Australian Open and who from the women's field will open their campaign with a Grand Slam title.
Defending champion and seven-time winner Serena Williams, having given birth to her daughter Alexis Olympia in September, and former title-holder Victoria Azarenka are both absentees from what promises to be another intriguing major fortnight.
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With the draw now made, and potential adversaries in position down the line, talk of who is well placed to succeed in the expected summer heat of Melbourne has begun.
Here, we look at five contenders, four targeting a glory at Melbourne Park.maiden Slam success, chasing tournament...
The world No 1 began her season with a tournament winning performance in Shenzhen and will be confident of avoiding a second successive first-round exit in Australia.
Halep, a two-time Grand Slam finalist, has failed to progress past the quarter-finals since her first appearance in Melbourne.
- Age: 26
- Nationality: Romanian
- Ranking: 1
- Best Australian Open: QF (2014,15)
The 26-year-old, known for her aggressive counterpunch strategy, is diminutive in stature but packs a punch and will start her campaign against 17-year-old Australian Destanee Aiava, who booked her berth with victory in the Australian Open wildcard playoff.
A third-round meeting with Petra Kvitova could be a highlight of the opening week's action.
Wozniacki enjoyed arguably her most impressive season to date in 2017 and claimed the WTA Finals crown to underline her return to form as she seeks to secure her elusive first major.
The former world No 1 climbed to second in the rankings on Monday - her highest spot since early 2012 - after beginning her season with a run to the ASB Classic final in Auckland.
- Age: 27
- Nationality: Danish
- Ranking: 2
- Best Australian Open: SF (2011)
The 27-year-old Dane, beaten by Johanna Konta in the third round last year, was the beneficiary of a favourable draw, held on Thursday, with a first-round meeting Mihaela Buzarnescu unlikely to pose much concern.
Her quarter of the draw is without many of the principle contenders for the title and Wozniacki should reach the quarter-final - where a potential match-up with Jelena Ostapenko awaits.
The Ukranian is another player to have started her season in emphatic fashion.
Victory at the Brisbane International, which included victories over Konta and Karolina Pliskova, sent a warning to her rivals that the 23-year-old has continued to make forward strides.
- Age: 23
- Nationality: Ukranian
- Current ranking: 4
- Best Australian Open: 3R (2014,15,17)
The world No 4, gained a reputation for being a big-game player on the WTA circuit in 2017, but struggled to impress on the Grand Slam scene - her best run were fourth-round appearances at Wimbledon and the US Open.
Svitolina will meet an as yet unnamed qualifier in her first-round match and should be a prominent name as the tournament progresses into the latter stages.
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The most in-form player in the women's draw - the German claimed her third successive title with victory over Wozniacki in Auckland.
The 29-year-old, who has won her last 14 matches and won titles in Moscow and the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai last year, possesses a powerful game which is likely to prove dangerous for her more illustrious opponents.
- Age: 29
- Nationality: German
- Ranking: 12
- Best Australian Open: 4R (2012,13,15)
After Angelique Kerber's surprise victory in 2016, Georges could benefit from a similar low profile as she aims to become only the third German female winner - Steffi Graf was a four-time winner - of the Australian Open.
Georges, up to a career-high world No 12, will begin against American 19-year-old Sofia Kenin with the possibility of a third-round clash against home favourite Daria Gavrilova.
The five-time Grand Slam champion is back at the scene of her failed drugs ban in 2016.
Sharapova, 30, returned to the sport after a 15-month suspension last April and after not receiving wildcards for either the French Open or Wimbledon briefly impressed at Flushing Meadows, including beating Halep in the first round, before losing to Anastasija Sevastova in the last 16.
- Age: 30
- Nationality: Russian
- Ranking: 47
- Best Australian Open: W (2008)
The Russian, back inside the world's top 50, claimed the Tianjin Open at the back end of last season for her first crown since May 2015 and will be a dangerous floater in the draw.
The former winner in Melbourne will open her campaign against Tatjana Maria and could face Kerber and Garbine Muguruza in the third and fourth round stage respectively.
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