2019 women’s crystal ball

  • Reem Abulleil

The streak has finally been broken. After eight different women won the last eight Grand Slams, Naomi Osaka snapped the trend and triumphed in back-to-back majors.

The 21-year-old from Japan is the first woman since Jennifer Capriati in 2001 to follow up her maiden Grand Slam success by winning the very next major.

Her victory over Petra Kvitova in the Australian Open 2019 final on Saturday has catapulted her to the top spot in the world rankings, making Osaka the youngest world No. 1 since Caroline Wozniacki in 2010.

But this Australian Open women’s tournament hasn’t just given us a new back-to-back Slam champion and a new world No. 1. It gave us one of the strongest majors we’ve witnessed in a long time.

Just six months ago at Wimbledon, the women’s draw only featured one top-10 seed – Karolina Pliskova – in the fourth round. In Melbourne this past fortnight, seven of the top-eight seeds made it to the fourth round.

The final was a three-set thriller between a fourth-seeded Osaka and an eighth-seeded Kvitova, which was a showdown played out for the very first time.

The top players having such a strong start to the season is the perfect appetiser for what promises to be a stellar 2019.

Osaka and Kvitova have leapfrogged Simona Halep in the rankings, snapping the Romanian’s streak of 48 consecutive weeks at No. 1 (she spent 64 weeks at the top in total).

“I think women's tennis is very open. You really never know who is going to be there. But definitely she's playing a great game,” Kvitova said of Osaka. “She's really big player, as she showed in the results, winning US Open and Australian Open, it's an amazing achievement. Definitely she is a great one. We'll see what the future will bring. But for sure she has probably everything what to be there and play her best tennis.”

Osaka doesn’t just bring an impressive game to the table; she brings youth, personality and a unique mental maturity well beyond her years to a tour that has an interesting mix of characters.

The top players having such a strong start to the season is the perfect appetiser for what promises to be a stellar 2019

Rising Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka is a new addition to the top-10, while 2018 Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki has fell behind from No. 3 to No. 9 following her third-round exit in Melbourne at the hands of Maria Sharapova.

Wozniacki has won just four matches, across three tournaments, since she lifted the Beijing trophy last October and leaves the Australian Open in a different position compared to last year.

Serena Williams moves up to No. 11 in the rankings and will resume her quest for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam. Williams’ bid for Margaret Court’s all-time mark was ended by Karolina Pliskova in the quarterfinals in Melbourne, but the American can find solace in the fact that she’s playing at a high level and “is back to being Serena again” as her coach Patrick Mouratoglou says. While she was non-committal about her schedule moving forward, the 37-year-old is clear about her desire to get that all-time record.

Asked where she feels she will have the best chance to claim a 24th major, Williams said: “Right now would be Roland Garros because that's the next one, the next Grand Slam for me. But, yeah, I mean, 22 is close, 23 wasn't close, but 22 was close for a long time. 18 was close forever. Yeah, we'll see.”

Australia’s Ashleigh Barty has positioned herself as one of the young players to watch this season as the 22-year-old sent out a statement of intent with her runner-up showing in Sydney, and her maiden Grand Slam quarter-final appearance at the Australian Open. The Queenslander is up to a career-high ranking of 14 and will no doubt be a force to be reckoned with this season.

MORE: Barty: 'Its been amazingly positive'

American teen Amanda Anisimova got to showcase her talent on the big stage in Melbourne, reaching her first Grand Slam fourth round, in what was just her third major main draw appearance. The 17-year-old Anisimova took out title contender Sabalenka in the third round before falling to Kvitova, and has moved up 26 spots in the rankings as a result, to a career-high 61.

Young players like 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, and last year’s Indian Wells runner-up Daria Kasatkina will have to recover from a slow start to their 2019 campaigns, especially with the likes of Osaka, Barty, Sabalenka and Anisimova leading the way for the 22-and-under age group in the opening month of the year.

Halep told reporters in Melbourne that she plans on fighting to return to the top spot, and it looks like her search for a coach might be ending soon with rumours flying about a potential partnership with David Goffin’s former coach Thierry van Cleemput.

Amanda Anisimova

The top-10 now has a nice balance between power-hitters like Osaka, Kvitova, Pliskova, who enjoy their first-strike tennis, and aggressive counter-punchers like Halp, Elina Svitolina and Angelique Kerber.

We can expect some fine battles between both styles over the next 10 months, and a fierce competition for the No. 1 ranking, with less than 2000 points separating the top-five.