The WTA season in 2018 will welcome back Serena Williams, but it is unknown how effective and potent she will be. Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova should also be in the mix, but they will be mysteries as well. If players are able to win their first major titles – as Sloane Stephens and Jelena Ostapenko managed to do in 2017 – which are the best candidates? These stand out as the top four, but there are other very strong candidates in the mix:
Svitolina was sensational at the tournaments which were one notch below the Grand Slams in terms of importance. The Ukrainian won her third Premier 5 championship of the season without a single loss in Toronto in August. Svitolina moved to 15-0 for the year in Premier 5 tournament matches before failing to win the remaining two Premier 5s in Cincinnati and then in the Asian swing this fall.
Svitolina has shown that she is close to a breakthrough at the biggest events in tennis – she just needs to get over the hump. She led Simona Halep a set and 5-1 in the Roland Garros quarterfinals before losing her steadiness and dropping a rough decision in three sets. She led Madison Keys, 4-2, in the third set of the fourth round at the U.S. Open but then lost the match at the end. Keys made the U.S. Open final – that could have been Svitolina instead. She came very close to becoming the No. 1 player in the world last season and is still in the hunt for No. 1 in 2018. She has played doggedly and with an ability to frustrate a lot of players on the WTA tour. If she does break through, a lot of people will not be surprised.
The Romanian reached the No. 1 ranking in the world. She defeated Ostapenko and avenged her French Open final loss in Beijing. She also defeated Maria Sharapova at that tournament, beating the Russian for the first time and avenging her loss to Sharapova at the U.S. Open. Halep went deep into a lot of tournaments, but had problems winning them. This was true at the French Open, and it was also true at Wimbledon, where she narrowly lost a quarterfinal to Jo Konta. Halep is not a great distance from winning Grand Slams. She has to win the close matches she so often loses in the second week of these tournaments. A few points here or there, and a moderately more consistent first serve, can carry her over the top.
The Czech made a French Open semifinal and two hardcourt quarterfinals – Australia and the United States – last year. She did not even play her best, and she was still a factor at the Grand Slams. Victory is very attainable for her. Stamina in third sets of matches and defensive coping skills, if increased to a noticeable degree, can take a contender and turn her into an outright champion.
Pliskova had a very strong campaign in 2017 as she finished the year 51-18. She was 5-1 on grass, 8-4 on the clay courts but was a healthy 35-10 in hard surface matches.
This is one of the more mysterious and exciting players on the tour, someone who has always possessed a lot of talent but has struggled to play with poise and discipline. Finally, after the U.S. Open, Garcia roared into action, winning both Wuhan and Beijing, a Premier 5 and a Premier Mandatory event in consecutive weeks. She then battled into the semifinal round of the WTA Finals, showing that she could take on the best players in the world and hold her own. The big question as she enters 2018 is if that run in the fall was a sign that she is ready to take her game to the next level, or if it was a temporary emergence after a lot of the tour lost focus and energy following the U.S. Open. Garcia has shown enough to suggest that her game will be able to hold up under pressure and withstand a WTA Tour that will expect her to be at her best.
2018 Odds To Win The Australian Open
Serena Williams 4/1
Garbine Muguruza 15/2
Maria Sharapova 10/1
Karolina Pliskova 11/1
Simona Halep 12/1
Johana Konta 14/1
Victoria Azarenka 14/1
Angelique Kerber 16/1
Caroline Wozniacki 16/1
Elina Svitolina 16/1
Madison Keys 16/1
Petra Kvitova 16/1
Jelena Ostapenko 20/1
Caroline Garcia 25/1
Sloane Stephens 25/1
Ashleigh Barty 28/1
Coco Vandeweghe 28/1
Venus Williams 28/1
Dominika Cibulkova 40/1
Julia Goerges 40/1
Agnieszka Radwanska 50/1
Belinda Bencic 50/1
Daria Kasatkina 50/1
Svetlana Kuznetsova 66/1
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 80/1
Ekaterina Makarova 80/1
Kristina Mladenovic 80/1
Lucie Safarova 80/1
Marketa Vondrousova 80/1
Ana Konjuh 100/1
Daria Gavrilova 100/1
Heather Watson 100/1
Eugenie Bouchard 125/1
Carla Suarez Navarro 150/1
Monica Puig 150/1
Laura Robson 250/1
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