After a 17-year roller coaster, the glittering and sometimes controversial career of Maria Sharapova has come to an end.
The first grand slam of the year, the Australian Open, is just moments away. Here are my predictions for the tournament.
Goffin ended the 2017 season on a high, making the final of the season-ending championship in London, where he beat both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. He also defeated two top 20 players, Lucas Pouille and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, in Belgium’s Davis Cup loss to France. He’s continued that form in the Hopman Cup, defeating Thanasi Kokkinakis, and world number 4 Alex Zverev.
The world number 7’s previous Australian Open form has been solid, reaching the fourth round in 2016 (losing to Federer), and reaching the quarter-finals here last year. He’s yet to advance past the quarter finals at a Grand Slam (he also achieved this at Roland Garros in 2016), but with the recent withdrawals of some top-line players in Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori, and questions surrounding Novak Djokovic’s form after a long injury lay-off, I’m backing Goffin to take advantage of that and progress deep into the tournament.
The defending champion is an obvious choice, but he’s been one of the best performed players to start this season. After winning last year’s Australian Open, Federer went on to win Wimbledon (without losing a set), Indian Wells, the Miami Masters, and the Shanghai Masters.
His strategy of being selective with the tournaments he chooses to play has paid dividends, and seems to keep him fresh and eager to continue winning. Like Goffin, he’ll benefit from Murray and Nishikori’s withdrawals, and being ranked number two will see him avoid nemesis Nadal until the final.
Thiem enters the Australian Open off the back of a semi-final berth at the Qatar Open, where he was unfortunately forced to withdraw due to fever. His 2017 was filled with mixed form, with an excellent start to the season culminating in a semi-final berth at Roland Garros. He reached the season-end finals in London, but failed to have any success.
He reached the fourth round at the Australian Open in 2017, losing to Goffin, and will be looking to do better than that this year.
He hasn’t yet been able to translate his clay court success to hard courts, but he has the game style to do so. With a favourable draw, there’s no reason he can’t surpass last year’s result.
Maybe 2018 is the year Dimitrov will finally break through for his first Slam victory. He’s one of the most talented players in the world, but has been plagued by inconsistency in recent years.
However, 2017 was a breakout year for the Bulgarian, seeing him win four tournaments, including the Brisbane International and the season-ending tour finals in London. His Brisbane win set him up for a semi-final berth at the Australian Open, losing to Nadal. He made the semi-finals in Brisbane last week too, losing to Nick Kyrgios, and seems to be in good touch. He could be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the spate of top-level withdrawals.
Svitolina comes into 2018 as one of the form players from 2017. It was a breakout season for her, winning five titles and improving her ranking to number three in the world. Grand Slams haven’t been happy hunting grounds for her in the past, with a quarter-final berth at Roland Garros her best result.
She won last week’s Brisbane tournament in imperious form, and, with her serve firing and her backhand in excellent touch, she looks one of the players to beat in the year’s first Slam
The current world number one, Halep is arguably the best current player not to have won a Slam. She came close in last year’s French Open final, but was crushingly defeated by youngster Jelena Ostapenko.
She didn’t have her best year in 2017, only winning one tournament (losing four other finals) and losing in the first round of both the Australian Open and the US Open, but she has made the Australian Open quarter-finals in 2014 and 2015.
However, she comes into the Australian Open off the back of a win in Shenzhen last week, and with no Serena Williams in the draw, will be looking to capitalise on the benefits her number one ranking and seeding affords her.
Like Halep, Pliskova has been unlucky not to have won a Grand Slam before now, but comes into the Australian Open as one of the title favourites. She won three tournaments last year, including Brisbane, and made the quarter finals at the Australian Open and US Open, and the semi-finals at Roland Garros.
She lost in a tight semi-final in Brisbane against eventual champion Svitolina last week, so is in good form coming into the tournament. Her big serve and powerful game will be an asset at this tournament, and with a decent draw, it wouldn’t surprise to see her make a run to the final.
A slightly left-field selection, but Garcia had an excellent season in 2017, and it wouldn’t surprise to see her do some damage at the Australian Open. She won two titles, made the semi-finals at the season-ending championships, and had wins over Simona Halep and Elina Svitolina.
She unfortunately retired hurt in her first round match against countrywoman Alize Cornet in the first round in Brisbane last week, but she comes into the Australian Open riding a wave of good form. She’s in with her best shot of improving on her best AO result of the third round.