Halep, Wozniacki lead race to seize Serena’s Aussie crown

Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki spearhead the charge to succeed Serena Williams at an Australian Open left wide open by the withdrawal of the defending champion and new mum.

A pregnant Williams sealed her 23rd Grand Slam singles title and seventh Melbourne Park crown a year ago, but last week announced she wouldn’t defend her title, saying she was “super close” but not quite ready to compete after giving birth in September.

With the 36-year-old having to wait to equal Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles, the tournament is there for the taking by a host of players, led by world number one Halep, second-ranked 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 hasn’t won a match on tour since her Flushing Meadows triumph, and Ostapenko was far from her attacking best in her first-round defeats in Shenzhen and Sydney in the past week.

 

Wimbledon champion and world number three Garbine Muguruza retired with severe cramps in Brisbane last week, in what could be a further boost to Halep’s hopes of a maiden Grand Slam.

The 26-year-old Romanian is full of confidence after lifting the title at Shenzhen in dominant fashion, but will need to overcome her sorry record at Melbourne Park where she has lost in the first round in both of the past two years when seeded in the top four.

 

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