Five women targeting a big AO2020

  • Alex Sharp

Such is the current strength and depth of women’s tennis that several Grand Slam champions have been pushed down the order.

Outside the top 16 seeds will be some of the biggest stars plotting their path back to the top of the sport in 2020.

The Australian Open presents the perfect platform for these players to return to the peak of their powers – and could serve as a springboard for a successful season on tour. 

Angelique Kerber

The 2016 Australian Open champion arrived Down Under at a bit of a cross roads, seeking a fresh direction for her game. 

Since winning her third Grand Slam at Wimbledon in 2018, the 31-year-old has endured a turbulent period, mixing flashes of brilliance with performances falling well below the German’s exemplary standards.

Currently ranked 18th, Kerber is just a few tweaks away from regaining her confidence and conviction alongside new coach Dieter Kindlmann.

An opening-round defeat by home charge Sam Stosur at the Brisbane International illustrated Kerber’s need to eliminate passive play and unleash her full artillery at Melbourne Park.

If Kerber can recapture her aggression to accompany her remarkable retrieval skills, she can surge into the second week.

Garbine Muguruza

Rewind to 2017 and the Spaniard had ruled SW19 by defeating Venus Williams in the Wimbledon final.

In doing so, Muguruza became the first ever player to win against both Williams sisters in major finals, having overcome Serena at Roland Garros 2016.

With those two landmark Grand Slam trophies in her cabinet, it was thought the Spaniard would become a dominant force in the women’s game.

Yet the 26-year-old is down at world No.35, with injuries disrupting rhythm. Muguruza started 2019 with a fourth-round showing in Melbourne, but failed to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal within a season for the first time in six years. 

When Muguruza is ruthless and proactive, very few can contend with the force that propelled the Spaniard to the top of the rankings.

Conchita Martinez was in her camp at Wimbledon 2017 and Muguruza has recruited her compatriot once again as coach. 

This could be the perfect reunion to lay the foundation for a deep run in Melbourne. 

Garbine Muguruza opened season 2020 with a run to the semifinals at the WTA tournament in Shenzhen. (Getty Images)

Jelena Ostapenko

The Latvian is capable of breaking down any on-court defence – raw power simply rockets off her racket.

The 2017 French Open champion had been misfiring last season until the appointment of Marion Bartoli as coach in October. The 2013 Wimbledon winner made an instant impact, guiding the 22-year-old Ostapenko to two finals in two weeks.

Sitting now at world No.45, Ostapenko lost the Linz finale but lifted her first trophy in over two years in Luxembourg to finish 2019 on a high. 

"Sometimes I can go negative if things don’t go my way,” said Ostapenko. "(Bartoli is) supporting me so much and bringing so many positive things, and just trying to keep me as positive as possible.”

There is the key word. A positive frame of mind for Ostapenko could well produce a positive fortnight in Melbourne, where her best result was a third-round finish in both 2017 and 2018.

Jelena Ostapenko jumped from world No.73 to No.44 after winning 10 of her last 12 matches to end season 2019. (Getty Images)

Venus Williams

Modern legends of the sport continue to play longer, with Venus leading the charge at 39 years of age. 

With an astonishing career entering into a fourth decade, she continues to battle to build her legacy. 

Having slipped to world No.56, it would be easy to count out the American, but that would be a foolish move.

At the back end of 2019 Williams became embroiled in a series of long matches with very little reward. To surge back into major contention, the seven-time major champion might look to go for broke.

The 2003 and 2017 Australian Open finalist definitely has the firepower to do so, with a sledgehammer serve the perfect weapon to help serve and volley more. Keeping points short and sharp could help Venus soar into the second week at Melbourne Park. 

Venus Williams, who lost four of her last five matches of 2019, will be looking to rebound at Australian Open 2020. (Getty Images)

Maria Sharapova

Blighted by injuries, particularly her right shoulder, Maria Sharapova only completed 15 matches last season.

After falling to Serena Williams in the US Open first round, Sharapova finished 2019 at world No.131, her lowest year-end position since 2002.

For the fiercest of competitors, and someone who has accumulated five Grand Slam titles, it’s been a gruelling process for the Russian to try and recapture her glory.

"I still have that internal fire and motivation ... all on my mind when I wake up is getting into my sports gear and going out and working to be a better tennis player.”
Maria Sharapova

The 2008 Australian Open champion has frequently found her form in Melbourne, featuring in another three finals at Rod Laver Arena in 2007, 2012 and 2015. She also advanced to the second week last year, falling in three sets in the fourth round to Ash Barty.

The desire to return to the silverware showdown certainly hasn’t diminished. 

“I have goals and dreams for life after tennis, but I still have that internal fire and motivation,” Sharapova said in Brisbane.

“Really, all on my mind when I wake up is getting into my sports gear and going out and working to be a better tennis player.”
 
The appointment of Ricardo Piatti as coach helped with a strong off-season in Italy, serving up a timely boost for the 32-year-old.

Fighting fit, Sharapova is the ultimate wildcard.

Maria Sharapova fell in the first round of the Brisbane International to Jennifer Brady. (Getty Images)