Australian Open 2020: Four reasons the women's tournament could be a classic
Charles Perrin makes four arguments for why the women's draw of the opening Grand Slam of 2020 will make for compelling viewing...
A new tennis season is virtually upon us and it will see familiar foes renew hostilities as well as the emergence of fresh rivalries. The first Grand Slam of the year - the Australian Open - is only weeks away and there will be fascinating sub plots in the women's draw involving Ash Barty, Serena Williams and Bianca Andreescu. But who will be crowned the champion in Melbourne?
Will Serena end her Slam drought?
Serena Williams has been the dominant figure of women's tennis for well over a decade. But there is still a gnawing question - when will she claim her 24th Grand Slam title? Williams has been stuck on 23 for the past three years since winning her last Slam at the Australian Open in 2017 when she was two months pregnant with her daughter Alexis Olympia. If she were able to equal Margaret Court's long standing record of 24 Slams, it would arguably be Williams' biggest achievement to date.
Her blistering power has blown away her opponents, but what is astonishing is that she has lost her last four Grand Slam finals without even winning a set. Going into the Australian Open, she is trading as the favourite with the Betfair Exchange at6.80. The American holds the Open Era record for most titles won by a woman in Melbourne (seven) and the surface suits her game more than at the US Open.
Explaining this further, former Australian Open doubles champion Todd Woodbridge said: "I think this surface at the Australian Open has always been a nice pace for her. I think it's the better surface.
"The US Open can sometimes be a bit hard and bit fast - it gets onto her. Here there is a little bit more time on the ball for her, just to set up and load."
Can Andreescu back up Flushing Meadows triumph?
Bianca Andreescu's rise to prominence has been extraordinary. The Canadian has gone from strength to strength and, besides landing the Indian Wells Masters and the Canadian Open, she claimed her first Major at the US Open in September to climb to a career-high ranking of four.
Andreescu, who is only 19, is already being tipped to be a future world number one. She is a true warrior on the court and her ability to mix it up from the baseline, as well as show soft hands at the net, makes her very tricky to play against. Part of the key to her success was the way she built up her fitness before exploding onto the WTA Tour. Currently, she is valued at13.00 to lift the Australian Open and she will be one to keep your eyes on in Melbourne.
Will Barty shine Down Under?
For Ash Barty, 2019 was a year to remember. In clinching her maiden major at the French Open as well as claiming the number one ranking and winning the WTA Finals, the Australian has plenty of momentum going into her home Slam. Her best showing in Melbourne was a quarter-final appearance last year and prior to that, she was knocked out in the third round in the previous two editions of the event.
At present, she is9.60 to go all the way Down Under and she should thrive under the pressure. Australia has not had a homegrown Open champion since Chris O'Neill in 1978, but it will be fascinating to see whether can carry the heavy burden of expectation placed on her shoulders.
Can Pliskova go one step further?
Karolina Pliskova is one of the most feared players on the circuit and she ended 2019 with a 52-17 record. The Czech possesses a big serve and she has reached two Grand Slam semi-finals. Last year, she won four WTA titles and more will be expected of her.
She is a slight outsider at14.50 to clinch the Australian Open and ultimately it will depend on how the draw pans out for the world number two. She'll certainly be gunning for revenge against Barty to whom she lost in three sets in the semi-finals of the WTA Finals.