Women's draw: Barty’s quest for history

  • David Cox

The Australian Open 2020 women’s singles promises to be an enthralling spectacle with some mouth-watching first round clashes materialising from Thursday evening’s draw.

Top seed and world No.1 Ash Barty will begin her campaign to become the first Australian woman to win the women’s singles title since Christine O’Neil in 1978, against Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko. The pair have played on two previous occasions with the head to head standing at 1-1, although Tsurenko won the last one in straight sets in Brisbane two years ago.

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Barty is seeded to face defending champion and No.3 seed Naomi Osaka in the last four. Osaka gets her title defence underway against Czech world No.59 Marie Bouzkova.

However, there are plenty of hurdles for both to overcome before that match can become a possibility. Eighteenth seed Alison Riske, who beat Barty in the last sixteen at Wimbledon 2019, looms at the same stage in Melbourne, while seventh seed Petra Kvitova is in her quarter.

Osaka’s road to the last four is littered with banana skins, beginning with a possible third-round clash against either 39-year-old Venus Williams or 15-year-old prodigy Coco Gauff. Williams and Gauff meet again in one of the first round’s standout matches, a repeat of their clash at Wimbledon which Gauff won in straight sets, catapulting her into the sporting limelight in the process.

Later on Osaka could face 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens – the 24th seed in Melbourne – in the last sixteen, while there is the tantalising possibility of a blockbuster quarterfinal between the Japanese star, and eighth seed Serena Williams.

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Williams, 38, is chasing her eighth Australian Open title, and would almost certainly relish the opportunity to avenge her 2018 US Open final defeat to Osaka. Williams plays Russia’s Anastasia Potapova in round one, and has a far kinder route to the last eight, with Britain’s Johanna Konta the biggest potential threat in her section of the draw.

Melbourne 2018 champion Caroline Wozniacki will retire after this year’s Australian Open to pursue new challenges, and the Dane has been granted a relatively kind start to the final tournament of her career against world No.92 Kristie Ahn.

Wozniacki, one of the most popular figures in the women’s game, could conceivably play close friend Williams in the last 16 but that would likely require her to overcome both 23rd seed Dayana Yastremska and Konta in the process.

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In the bottom half of the draw, second seed Karolina Pliskova has been handed a tough opening match against mercurial Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic. Pliskova is also in the same section of the draw as the hard-hitting American CoCo Vandeweghe, and recent Auckland finalist Jessica Pegula.

Fourth seed Simona Halep also has a tricky opener against in-form American Jennifer Brady who beat both Barty and Maria Sharapova in Brisbane earlier this year.

Meanwhile Sharapova, the 2008 champion, is involved in another of the draw’s most enticing first round matches against 19th seed Donna Vekic.

The top half of the women's draw will play on Monday, with the schedule to be released on Friday Melbourne time.

Projected quarterfinal match-ups

[1] Barty v [7] Kvitova
[3] Osaka v [8] S.Williams
[6] Bencic v [4] Halep
[5] Svitolina v [2] Pliskova