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Halep, Wozniacki lead the pack

China Daily | Updated: 2018-01-12 10:07
Caroline Wozniacki, ranked No 2 in the world, is at the forefront to succeed Serena Williams as the women's champion Down Under when the Australian Open kicks off at Melbourne Park on Monday. File photo. [Photo/Agencies]

Full of confidence

Wimbledon champion and world No 3 Garbine Muguruza retired with severe cramps in Brisbane last week, in what could be a further boost to Halep's hopes of winning her first Grand Slam.

The 26-year-old Romanian is full of confidence after lifting the title at Shenzhen in dominant fashion, but will need to overcome her sorry record at Melbourne Park, where she has lost in the first round in both of the past two years after being seeded in the top four.

Wozniacki is riding high after her resurgence in 2017 when she reached eight finals, with victories in Tokyo in September and at the season-ending Tour Championship.

The Danish former world No 1 lost in the Auckland Classic final on Sunday to Germany's Julia Goerges, but said she "felt great" heading to Melbourne as she too looks to make her Slam breakthrough.

"I've got a lot of matches under my belt this week... it was the preparation I hoped for," said Wozniacki, who is back up to No 2 in the world and, if results go her way, can return to the top spot after a gap of six years.

Meanwhile, Svitolina last week won the Brisbane International after picking up five WTA Tour titles last year, more than any other woman.

The Ukrainian believes hard work in the offseason is paying dividends. "I've started to play more consistently," she said. "I'm stronger physically. I have a different look to my game."

World No 6 Karolina Pliskova lost to Svitolina in the Brisbane semifinals but also will be a contender for a maiden Slam behind one of the biggest serves on tour.

Sharapova lurking

Britain's world No 9 Johanna Konta could figure despite a slow start to the season. She reached the last eight in both of her Australian Open appearances to date, but slumped out of the Sydney International in the first round this week.

But the most dangerous floater is 2008 champion Maria Sharapova, who on Monday moved back into the world's top 50 for the first time since returning from a 15-month doping ban.

The controversial Russian, ranked No 47, lost in the Shenzhen semifinals to Katerina Siniakova and admitted she had "a lot of things to improve on".

If it is not to be a new name on the trophy, it could well be the oldest player in the field-37-year-old Venus Williams.

Venus last won a Grand Slam in 2008 but she enjoyed a renaissance last year by reaching two Slam finals and returning to the world top five.

Only sister Serena prevented Venus from winning an 11th Grand Slam singles title in last year's all-Williams Melbourne final. A victory would see her eclipse Australia's Ken Rosewall as the oldest player ever to win a major.

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