Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka land in the same stacked quarter while top seeds like Karolina Pliskova face tricky opening rounds at the 2020 Australian Open: Who has the best route through the draw to the trophy?
Australian Open tennis is live from 20 January-2 February with play starting around 11am local/12am GMT
Reigning champion Osaka tries to become the first woman since Victoria Azarenka in 2012-13 to defend her Australian Open title, but her path through the draw brings her into direct collision with seven-time champion Serena, who is looking once more for that elusive 24th major which would tie Margaret Court’s all-time record.
Home favourite Ashleigh Barty has a perilous path through the early rounds, while Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova and 2018 runner-up Simona Halep are all contenders to reach the final from the bottom half of the draw.
We’ve analysed the draw and predicted the semifinalists – and beyond.
Projected quarterfinal: Ashleigh Barty (1) vs Petra Kvitova (7) (3-4)
Should Barty and Kvitova meet in the quarterfinals, it would be a rematch of last year’s final-eight clash between the two, with Kvitova going on to reach the final before losing in three sets to Osaka.
Unfortunately for fans of the left-handed Czech, I don’t see Kvitova reprising last year’s run to the final in Melbourne. Deep runs at the majors have been sporadic at best for the two-time Wimbledon champion in recent years and before last year, she had not made it out of the second week in Melbourne since 2012. Moreover, Kvitova has a history of asthma and respiratory problems which could be a factor with the poor air quality in Melbourne at the moment.
Kvitova played decently in the warm-up, making the semifinals in Brisbane before losing to Madison Keys, but there are a few potential tricky opponents in her path, starting with first-round opponent Katerina Siniakova, a compatriot who knocked Osaka out of the French Open last year. Kvitova could face Shenzhen champion Ekaterina Alexandrova or perhaps the unseeded Kaia Kanepi, a six-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist (although never at the Australian Open) in the third round, and tenth seed Madison Keys in the last 16. Keys knocked Kvitova out of Brisbane, has a pattern of peaking for majors and is a former Australian Open semifinalist: If she can get past the slumping Daria Kasatkina in the first round, Keys is an excellent pick for quarterfinalist.
How will Barty fare as she returns to her home Grand Slam as the world no. 1 and a reigning major champion? Into the semifinals in Adelaide at the time of writing, Barty looks to be playing herself nicely into form, but she’s got some tricky opponents, starting with Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko, who won their only previous meeting in straight sets on her way to the Brisbane final in 2018, although Tsurenko has barely played since last July.
Polona Hercog, who had a good season in 2019 and came close to some big wins, could await Barty in the second round, as could Rebecca Peterson, who won two WTA titles last year. Hercog could be dangerous, as could the 20-year-old Elena Rybakina, Barty’s projected third-round opponent; the fast-rising Kazakh made the final in Shenzhen last week and is into the semifinals in Hobart.
Circle the name of Alison Riske, who knocked Barty out of Wimbledon last year. The American enjoyed a sensational 2019 and is a potential fourth-round opponent for Barty; 13th seed Petra Martic and powerful Julia Goerges are also in that section, although less threatening. Riske is 2-0 vs Barty, although they have never played on hard courts: An all-American quarterfinal clash between Keys and Riske could be on the cards.
Semifinalist: Keys (20/1 @ bet365 to win the title)
Projected quarterfinal: Naomi Osaka (3) vs Serena Williams (8) (2-1)
A clash between the reigning Australian Open champion and the woman with an unequalled seven Open Era titles would be a must-watch quarterfinal, but will it develop?
Williams has reached the final at four of the seven majors she’s played since returning from maternity leave in 2018, and had a commanding lead on Karolina Pliskova in the quarterfinals in Melbourne last year before injuring herself. Reaching Grand Slam finals has not been her issue; winning them has.
The 23-time major champion looked in very solid form as she won her first title as a mother in Auckland, and her draw is a relatively manageable one: Williams starts against world no. 90 Anastasia Potapova, and could face Wang Qiang, whom she crushed 6-1, 6-0 at the US Open last year, in the third round. There are some intriguing potential opponents in the fourth round: Williams is seeded to meet Johanna Konta, who beat Williams 6-1, 6-0 in a previous meeting (there were some extenuating circumstances). Big-serving Konta was an Australian Open semifinalist in 2016, a quarterfinalist in 2017 (losing in straight sets to Williams) and made the semifinals of the French Open and the quarterfinals of Wimbledon and the US Open in 2019 – but Konta has also only played one match since the US Open, and opens against the tricky Ons Jabeur.
Also in this section are Madison Brengle, who once beat Williams in Auckland; former top-10 player Caroline Garcia (currently unseeded); and the soon-to-retire Caroline Wozniacki, who is not at all playing like a woman about to hang up her trainers and who could face the talented Dayana Yastremska, now teamed up with Sascha Baijin and into the semifinals in Adelaide at the time of writing, in the second round.
A Williams-Wozniacki fourth round would be a lovely way for the Dane to end her career, but there would only be one winner.
What of defending champion Osaka? Any early nerves could be exposed by rising Czech Marie Bouzkova, a Rogers Cup semifinalist last year, in the first round, and San Jose champion Zheng Saisai is another potential banana skin in the second. The third round could involve a clash with the winner of the must-watch first-round match between Venus Williams and Coco Gauff, although I would back Osaka against both (I don’t think she would have as much difficulty in finding her best tennis against a perceived threat like either of the Americans as against an opponent who she’s expected to beat).
Former Australian Open semifinalist Sloane Stephens, who appears to be mired in a slump but could shake it off at any moment, is a potential fourth-round opponent, but much more likely is Sofia Kenin, who would be a hideously difficult opponent for Osaka. Kenin beat her (via retirement) in Cincinnati, loves taking down a top player and was the WTA’s Most Improved for 2019, and she has a fairly clear path to the last 16. If Osaka makes it as far as facing Kenin, that’s where her run will end. A Williams-Kenin quarterfinal looks likely to me, with Williams reversing the result of Kenin’s shock victory over her at the French Open.
Semifinalist: Williams (17/4 @ Unibet to win the title)
Projected quarterfinal: Belinda Bencic (6) vs Simona Halep (4) (2-2)
Wimbledon champion Halep was an Australian Open finalist in 2018, finishing runner-up to Wozniacki, but I don’t like her chances of getting back to the title match at all.
Halep does seem to get some unlucky draws, and facing Jennifer Brady, who looks on very good form and put together a superb run in Brisbane where she beat Maria Sharapova and Barty, is one of them. I would not be at all surprised to see Halep get blown off the court in that one, and if she survives it, there’s more pitfalls in the way: The third round could see Halep face Su-Wei Hsieh, who knocked her out of Wimbledon in 2018, or Danielle Collins, last year’s Australian Open semifinalist who is on very threatening form at the moment with wins over Elina Svitolina, Kenin and Belinda Bencic in the past fortnight. The bracket containing Halep’s potential fourth-round opponent – either 2018 semifinalist Elise Mertens or surprise Wimbledon quarterfinalist Karolina Muchova – looks much smoother, but if Halep can get past Brady and Collins, she’ll have earned it.
Sixth seed Belinda Bencic, a US Open semifinalist last year, has an interesting opener against the much-better-than-her-ranking Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, and could face hard-hitting 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko (unseeded) in an intriguing second round. But potential third-round opponent Anett Kontaveit hasn’t been playing her best tennis in the wake of illness which ended her 2019 season prematurely.
Things do get tricky for Bencic if she reaches the fourth round. Among her potential opponents in the last 16 are Aryna Sabalenka, who just blasted Halep off the court in Adelaide (but faces veteran Carla Suarez Navarro, a three-time Australian Open quarterfinalist albeit one who is playing her last season, in the first round); rising Pole Iga Swiatek; and the winner of a first-round clash between 19th seed Donna Vekic and 2008 Australian Open champion Maria Sharapova. Sabalenka is playing well at the moment but suffered a tragic loss during the off-season and her form is not to be depended on; Sharapova is recovering from shoulder surgery but remains a tremendous competitor, and I can see the Russian battling her way the round of 16. She won’t get past Bencic, but will Bencic get past Schmiedlova and Ostapenko?
Semifinalist: Collins (50/1 @ Unibet to win the title)
Projected quarterfinal: Elina Svitolina (5) vs Karolina Pliskova (2) (4-5)
A semifinalist in 2019, Pliskova comes in on excellent form after winning the Brisbane International and seems very much overdue for another Grand Slam final appearance, but from the look of her draw in the early rounds, I’m not sure it’s going to come this fortnight. Pliskova hasn’t exited before the quarterfinals since 2016, but she opens against former top-10 player Kristina Mladenovic, who has won two of their three hard-court clashes in straight sets. Drop-shot-happy Laura Siegemund or big-serving Coco Vandeweghe, a former Australian Open semifinalist, await in round two and in the third round, Pliskova could be up against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, a two-time Australian Open quarterfinalist (although she does have an 0-5 record vs Pliskova).
If the Czech gets through that, she would face either 2017 champion Angelique Kerber – who may be in doubt with a back injury, however – or the winner of a first-round clash between Marketa Vondrousova, the 2019 French Open finalist, and Svetlana Kuznetsova. All three could be tricky.
Fifth seed Elina Svitolina is aiming to make the quarterfinals for the third straight year in Melbourne, and opens against Great Britain’s Katie Boulter, with the potentially tricky Lauren Davis in the second round. Svitolina could meet Garbine Muguruza in the third round, but the Ukrainian has won four of the last five against the two-time Grand Slam champion.
Powerful Amanda Anisimova and Kiki Bertens are potential fourth-round opponents for Svitolina; Bertens has a 2-2 record vs the Ukrainian, while Anisimova is capable of powering through the fifth seed, but remains raw and inexperienced.
Semifinalist: Svitolina (25/1 @ Ladbrokes to win the title)
Williams d. Keys
Svitolina d. Collins
Williams d. Svitolina