With the first week of women’s singles in the book, here are 7 players that caught my eye. I am posting this before the bottom half determines its quarterfinal match-ups.
I’m always a little hesistant to pick Garbine to win a tournament. She has all the talent, but I don’t know what Mugu will show up from match to match. The reigning Roland Garros champion has been solid in Melbourne, having yet to drop a set. She hasn’t been spectacular like Johanna Konta. Garbi’s first two matches in particular, against Marina Erakovic and Samantha Crawford, were tight straight set victories. Still, Muguruza is the top ranked player remaining in the top half of the draw. Coco Vandeweghe will be no easy task in the quarters. And if Garbi gets by her, the Venus Williams vs Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova winner awaits in the semis.
American Coco Vandeweghe took out the #1 seed and defending champion Angelique Kerber the same way she took out Eugenie Bouchard in the previous round, by blasting away. I can’t wait to see the Muguruza vs Vandeweghe quarterfinal. It will be two fearless players with huge games. What Coco hasn’t faced yet in the her draw is somebody who can serve like Mugu can. But Coco won’t be intimidated no matter what Garbine throws at her.
I guarantee you right now ESPN is praying for a Venus vs Serena final. And it could happen as Venus Williams is still alive in the top half of the draw. Venus is playing well, but I have to be completely honest. It’s difficult to read how she will play in her quarter against Pavlyuchenkova or a potential semifinal versus the Muguruza-Vandeweghe winner. So far, Venus has not faced a seeded player. Pavlyuchenkova will be her first. In fact, Venus has reached this point with two of her opponents being qualifiers. I’ll be very interested to see how she looks in the first set against 24th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
My pick to win the title was on the brink of being out in the third round. Karolina Pliskova destroyed her first two opponents but then found herself down 2-5 in the third set of her third round match against Jelena Ostapenko. The reigning US Open runner-up was able to battle back and outlast Jelena 10-8 in the final set. She is likely to have the entire crowd against her when she takes on Australia’s Daria Gavrilova in the 4th round. But like Coco Vandeweghe, Karolina is fearless. She wasn’t bothered when the crowd was against her when she upset Serena Williams at the US Open, so I doubt she will let the crowd get to her down under.
There still exists the possibility of all four semifinalists being American; Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Coco Vandeweghe and…Jennifer Brady? The former UCLA Bruin might be the last player left in the women’s draw who actually played collegiate tennis. Ranked 116th, she is the only qualifier left. Even if she loses her fourth round match, it’s been a great run for her in Melbourne. Making the 4th round guarantees her 220,000 Australian dollars (around $166,000 USD). For a player with her ranking, that is a terrific way to start the year and maybe a springboard to finishing the year top 75 or top 50, if she can build on her showing here.
As much as I would love to see Jennifer Brady keep winning, I have a soft spot for her 4th round opponent, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. Once a teenage phenom who won her first ever WTA event when she was 15, the now 34-year old Mirjana has endured financial misfortune, injuries and an abusive father. At one point she was completely out of tennis, working at a gas station. Fighting her way back, playing events that would pay her less that $75…not $75,000…$75 period, to have made it back to this point in the game is inspiring. Brady vs Lucic-Baroni is one of those matches where I’ll be happy for the winner and sad for the loser no matter which player those end up being.
The most impressive performance in the women’s singles draw is that of Serena…uh, wait a minute, no…ummm, actually Johanna Konta. Coming in off an impressive title beating Agnieszka Radwanska in Sydney, Konta has continued surging, taking out Naomi Osaka and Caroline Wozniacki dare I say…easily. She has a tricky 4th round opponent in Ekaterina Makarova, who once upset Serena in Melbourne. Makarova also comes in off an upset of the reigning WTA Finals winner Dominika Cibulkova. If Konta dismisses Makarova the same way she has with other opponents so far, I might have to rethink my Pliskova pick to win it all. Then again, with Serena still alive in the draw maybe I should rethink picking anybody else to win it all.