Contenders fancy chances

Top-ranked duo Halep & Wozniacki eyeing first Grand Slam title in Williams' absence

MELBOURNE • Simona Halep will sport her "lucky" red dress and Caroline Wozniacki says she is playing better than ever as both aim for a first Grand Slam victory when the Australian Open starts today.

The world's two top-ranked players will spearhead the charge to succeed Serena Williams at the year's first major left wide open by the withdrawal of the new mum. With the 36-year-old American not ready to return, the tournament could be there for the taking by a host of players yet to win a Grand Slam - led by top seed Halep, Wozniacki and fourth-ranked Elina Svitolina.

Last year, there were two first-time major winners while Serena was on maternity leave - Jelena Ostapenko at the French Open and Sloane Stephens at the US Open.

But their chances in Melbourne look slim: Stephens has not won a match since her Flushing Meadows triumph and Ostapenko was far from her attacking best in recent first-round defeats in Shenzhen and Sydney.

Wimbledon champion and world No. 3 Garbine Muguruza is battling injury problems which could further aid Halep's hopes.

And the 26-year-old Romanian, who has no clothing sponsor, confirmed she would wear the same "lucky" red dress in Australia that she used while registering a dominant victory at the Shenzhen Open a fortnight ago. She found the outfit on the Internet and hoped it would bring the same results in Australia.

"Was a (web)site in China actually, and one of my managers helped me. In 24 hours I had the outfit, and it was perfect. I was lucky," she said.

World No. 1 Simona Halep goes in search of a first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open without a clothing sponsor, but is happy she'll be able to wear her "lucky" red dress which she found on the Internet.
World No. 1 Simona Halep goes in search of a first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open without a clothing sponsor, but is happy she'll be able to wear her "lucky" red dress which she found on the Internet. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

  • 1

  • Simona Halep has crashed out in the first round of the Australian Open in the past two years.

Lucky dress or not, she will need to overcome her poor record at Melbourne Park, where she has lost in the first round in the past two years. She opens against Australian wildcard Destinee Aiava tomorrow.

Former No. 1 Wozniacki is riding high in the rankings again after reaching eight finals last year, with victories in Tokyo in September and at the season-ending WTA Finals in Singapore.

"I think I've improved everything," said the Dane ahead of a first-round clash today with Romania's Mihaela Buzarnescu.

She lost to Germany's Julia Gorges in the Auckland Classic final last week, but said the rain-disrupted tournament had been tough, ideal preparation.

In-form Svitolina won the Brisbane International last week after picking up five WTA Tour titles last year, more than any other woman. The Ukrainian believes hard work in the off-season is paying dividends.

"I've started to play more consistently," she said. "I'm stronger physically. I have a different look to my game."

World No. 6 Karolina Pliskova lost to Svitolina in the Brisbane semi-finals but, with one of the biggest serves on the Tour, she is also a contender for a maiden Grand Slam title.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

AUSTRALIAN OPEN

Day 1: Singtel TV Ch114/ 115 & StarHub Ch208/209, 8am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2018, with the headline 'Contenders fancy chances'. Print Edition | Subscribe