Halep, Wozniacki eye maiden Slam

Sharapova could also be in the running
Last Updated 14 January 2018, 12:44 IST

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 on Monday.

The world's two top-ranked players will spearhead the charge to succeed Serena Williams at year's first major left wide open by the withdrawal of the defending champion and new mum.

With the 36-year-old Williams not ready yet 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 hasn't won a match since her Flushing Meadows triumph, and Ostapenko was far from her attacking best in first-round defeats in Shenzhen and Sydney recently.

Wimbledon champion and world number three Garbine Muguruza is battling injury problems which could further aid Halep's hopes.

Former number one Wozniacki is riding high in the rankings again after reaching eight finals in 2017, with victories in Tokyo in September and at the season-ending Tour Championship.

In-form Svitolina last week won the Brisbane International after picking up five WTA Tour titles last year, more than any other woman.  

World number six Karolina Pliskova lost to Svitolina in the Brisbane semifinal but also will be a contender for a maiden Slam behind one of the biggest serves on tour.

The most dangerous floater is 2008 champion Maria Sharapova, who is back in the world's top 50 for the first time since returning from a 15-month doping ban and will open against unseeded German Maria Tatjana.

Former champions aiming to go deep into the tournament include evergreen 37-year-old Venus Williams, who last won a Slam in 2008 but last year reached two finals -- in Melbourne and Wimbledon -- to get back to world number five, and Angelique Kerber.

(Published 14 January 2018, 12:30 IST)

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