The 2018 Australian Open is officially in the books for the women. Yes, the top two seeds reached the final, but the tournament was anything but routine. Let’s see how the world’s best fared down under.
Less than two years ago, the Dane’s ranking had fallen to 70 in the world. Now, she is finally a Grand Slam champion and will return to World No. 1 on Monday. She was down two match points in just the second round, but never flinched.
Wozniacki always hung her hat on defense and waited for opponents to miss. Great players rarely miss at the business end of majors. Thus, Grand Slam glory had always eluded her. In Australia this year though, Wozniacki built on a strong finish to last year and finally perfected a more balanced style that allowed her to finish points on her own more often. She was also among event leaders in aces.
Combine all of this with the fact that Wozniacki is still one of the best movers and defenders in the world, and you get a Grand Slam champion. She has had a career and personal life full of ups and downs. It is hard not to be extremely happy for her.
The Romanian was narrowly denied a Grand Slam winner’s trophy by a player who was just a little braver down the stretch. All three of Halep’s major finals have followed that script. However, it sure felt like she turned a corner at this event. Halep’s issue has always been mental toughness and folding in big moments.
After rolling her ankle in the first round and being down match point in both the third round and the semis, there was plenty of opportunity for Halep to fold. However, she instead dug deeper than she ever has to reach the final.
After this gritty effort, it is hard not to believe Halep will make the ultimate breakthrough sooner rather than later.
The 2016 Aussie champion appears to be close to that kind of form again in 2018. After falling out of the top 20 in 2017, the left-handed German grinder came into Melbourne on a winning streak that included a title to start the year in Sydney.
She demolished some really good players on her way to the semifinals. There, she came within an eyelash of beating Halep. With the way she was playing, it has to be disappointing for Kerber to leave the Australian Open without any hardware.
Even so, she looks happy to be on the court again and is well-positioned to be a factor all season long.
Is the third round where a five-time major winner like Sharapova wants to be bowing out? Of course not, but people that are writing off Sharapova after her blowout loss to Kerber need to slow down. Every other time Sharapova has been written off by the majority of the masses, she has gotten back to the top.
Keep in mind, the Russian is attempting her first full season since 2014 due to injuries and suspension. Her comeback began in April with no ranking. She will be World No. 41 on Monday. That is pretty good folks.
If Sharapova is still unseeded at the majority of events, unhealthy and bowing out in the third round of majors in a few months, then we can talk about her being done. At the moment, Sharapova’s situation is not great, but it is also far from dyer.
Top ranked American women
Things looked great for American ladies tennis as 2018 came calling. The U.S. won the Fed Cup title last year as well as claiming all four semifinal spots at the U.S. Open. Venus Williams, Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys and CoCo Vandeweghe were all highly seeded in Melbourne, and deep runs for all were a reasonable expectation.
However, Keys was the only one who managed to win a match. She was whipped by Kerber in the last eight. Williams had a tough draw and Vandeweghe was ill, but the history books don’t care. Serena Williams will be back next month.
Still, it is hard to look at Australia as anything other than a complete bust for the women who set New York on fire just a few months ago.
The fourth seeded Ukrainian matched her best major result by reaching the quarters. However, the odds makers’ early tournament favorite had a cakewalk draw to reach her first semi or perhaps go even further.
She did not face a single seeded player and was still blasted off the court by a bigger hitter. This script is becoming all too familiar for Svitolina at the majors. If she was unable to make the semis or better with this draw, it makes you wonder if she will ever deliver.
The good news is time is still on the 23-year-old’s side, but the questions continue to linger.
Ever since winning in Cincinnati last summer, early losses and injuries have piled up for the reigning Wimbledon champ. She has not even reached a semifinal and failed to finish both of her Australian Open tune-up events.
The Spaniard was upset in the second round at the year’s first major. Quite frankly, she looked miserable on the court and either needs to take extended time off to get healthy or make some changes and play her way through this slump.
It is always nice to end on a positive note. Belgium has struggled to make an impact in the tennis world since the retirements of all-time greats Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin. However, the Clijsters academy has produced a prospect to be excited about.
Mertens came in to the Australian Open fresh off a title defense at a small event in Hobart, but was still unseeded. She hit her way to the semifinals highlighted by a dominant quarterfinals win over Svitolina. She lost a competitive match to Wozniacki in the semis. The 22-year-old is a bit of an awkward mover, but can do damage with both the forehand and backhand.
We have seen several players announce their arrival with surprising deep runs at majors in recent years. Most have struggled to back up their initial breakthrough. Only time will tell if Mertens will fall into that category. For now though, life is good for the new top 20 entrant.
Be sure to check back in a couple days for my men’s grades.
Featured image from mirror.co.uk
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