Australian Open women’s draw: Serena, Osaka, Wozniacki, Venus, Gauff in loaded second quarter

andrew hendrie:

Defending champion Naomi Osaka and seven-time winner Serena Williams are seeded to collide in the Australian Open quarter-finals, while Venus Williams and 15-year-old sensation Coco Gauff will face off in a Wimbledon rematch in the opening round.

All eyes were on the second quarter of the women’s Australian Open draw as it was unveiled at Melbourne Park on Thursday evening.

Six Grand Slam champions make up the star-studded quarter, that is headlined by Osaka and Serena, while arguably the match of the opening round sees teenage star Gauff up against veteran Venus, with the two Americans meeting in a rematch of their Wimbledon tussle last year – which Gauff won.

Osaka starts her title defence with what could be a tough match against Marie Bouzkova of Czech Republic, while Serena takes on rising Russian star Anastasia Potapova.

Gauff and Venus are in Osaka’s mini-section, and should the 15-year-old and the defending champion win their first two matches, they would face off in a U.S. Open rematch in the third round.

Venus Williams and Coco Gauff shake hands at Wimbledon last year (PA Images) 

Playing in her final tournament before retirement, 2018 champion Caroline Wozniacki opens against Kristie Ahn and if she wins that, is likely to take on rising star Dayana Yastremska, while former semi-finalist Johanna Konta also lurks in that section.

Throw in the likes of Sloane Stephens, Sam Stosur, Caroline Garcia and Sofia Kenin and you’ve got an absolutely loaded quarter!

Elsewhere, World No. 1 and home hope Ashleigh Barty begins her title quest with a difficult match-up against the experienced Lesia Tsurenko. The Australian is seeded to face Petra Kvitova in the quarter-finals in what would be a rematch of last year’s last-eight showdown.

Madison Keys and former top 10 player Daria Kasatkina also square off in an eye-catching contest in the top quarter.

In the bottom half, second seed Karolina Pliskova will have to be ready from the get-go as she comes up against the dangerous Kristina Mladenovic. In fact, the Czech has a battle on her hands to even make the quarter-finals, with the likes of CoCo Vandeweghe, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Angelique Kerber and Marketa Vondrousova all potential obstacles before the last eight.

Reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep was also dealt a challenging first round, with the Romanian to face Jennifer Brady – the American who beat World No. 1 Barty last week in Brisbane.

Last year’s semi-finalist Danielle Collins – who has been an absolute wrecking ball to launch 2020 – also looms as a third round rival for Halep, while former champion Maria Sharapova takes on 19th seed Donna Vekic in another marquee first round duel.