(Reuters) – Penpix of the top women’s contenders at the 2020 Australian Open (Prefix denotes seeding):
FILE PHOTO: Tennis – Australian Open Previews – Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia – January 16, 2020 Serena Williams of the U.S. during a practice session REUTERS/Ciro De Luca/File Photo
1-Ash Barty (Australia)
World ranking: 1
Born: April 24, 1996 (Age: 23)
Grand Slam titles: 1
WTA career titles: 7
Best Australian Open performance: Quarter-finals (2019)
Not many players in recent years have shown as impressive an ability as Barty to block out outside noise and stay focused on the tennis court.
Her varied game means she has more options that most on court but her mental toughness will be put to the test again as she looks to become first homegrown winner of an Australian Open singles title since Chris O’Neil in 1978.
3-Naomi Osaka (Japan)
World ranking: 3
Born: Oct. 16, 1997 (Age: 22)
Grand Slam titles: 2
WTA career titles: 5
Best Australian Open performance: Winner (2019)
When Osaka sealed her second Grand Slam title triumph in Melbourne last year and clinched the top ranking, she looked set to become the new dominant force in the women’s game.
But struggling to cope with injuries and expectations, she suffered early exits at Wimbledon and U.S. Open before wrapping up the season on a positive note with back-to-back titles in the Asian swing.
After a relaxed off-season, which included a dream meeting with Beyonce, Osaka feels she could finally put her accomplishments into perspective and enjoy the defense of her title in Melbourne.
4-Simona Halep (Romania)
World ranking: 4
Born: Sept. 27, 1991 (Age: 28)
Grand Slam titles: 2
WTA career titles: 19
Best Australian Open performance: Runner-up (2018)
Despite losing the number one spot in the WTA rankings and having to deal with a lingering back injury, the Romanian captured her second major at Wimbledon last season.
Although Halep has revealed that her main priority for 2020 is the Tokyo Olympics, she vowed to give her “maximum” to win her third career Grand Slam in Melbourne, with former coach Darren Cahill back in her corner.
6-Belinda Bencic (Switzerland)
World ranking: 7
Born: March 10, 1997 (Age: 22)
Grand Slam titles: 0
WTA career titles: 4
Best Australian Open performance: Fourth round (2016)
When Belinda Bencic suffered a third-round exit in Melbourne last year, she was ranked 55th.
The Swiss has since emerged as the most improved player on the WTA Tour after a brilliant 2019 campaign in which she racked up 49 singles match wins and broke into the top 10.
She stunned Osaka on her way to the U.S. Open semi-finals last year and will look at the Australian Open as an opportunity to secure her maiden Grand Slam crown.
8-Serena Williams (U.S.)
World ranking: 9
Born: Sept 26, 1981 (Age: 38)
Grand Slam titles: 23
WTA career titles: 73
Best Australian Open performance: Winner (2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2015, 2017)
Williams kicked off the new season in style by claiming her first WTA title in almost three years and she will hope it is a stepping stone on her path to an elusive 24th Grand Slam title.
The American, now in her fourth decade as a professional, has lost her last four Grand Slam finals. Williams may not need statistics to prove her standing in the game but she still remains the player to beat in Melbourne.
Compiled by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru