Even without Serena, Aussie Open women's field still tough - KWES NewsWest 9 / Midland, Odessa, Big Spring, TX: newswest9.com |

Even without Serena, Aussie Open women's field still tough

(AP Photo/Dita Alangkara). United States' Sloane Stephens smiles during a press conference at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara). United States' Sloane Stephens smiles during a press conference at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018.
(AP Photo/Dita Alangkara). Britain's Johanna Konta gestures during a press conference at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara). Britain's Johanna Konta gestures during a press conference at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018.
(AP Photo/Vincent Thian). Romania's Simona Halep smiles during a press conference at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian). Romania's Simona Halep smiles during a press conference at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018.
(AP Photo/Dita Alangkara). Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki answers questions during a press conference at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara). Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki answers questions during a press conference at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018.
(AP Photo/Vincent Thian). Spain's Garbine Muguruza answers a question during a press conference at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian). Spain's Garbine Muguruza answers a question during a press conference at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018.

By JUSTIN BERGMAN
Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) - Without defending champion Serena Williams in the draw at the Australian Open, there's certainly an opportunity for another player to go on a surprising run and emerge as a first-time Grand Slam champion.

Sloane Stephens and Jelena Ostapenko did it last year.

Just don't describe the first Grand Slam of the year as "more open" than usual.

"Whenever I get asked that question, it always comes across in really kind of an almost negative way instead of acknowledging how many great players we have," Johanna Konta, who reached the semifinals of Wimbledon last year, said in her pre-tournament news conference Saturday.

"The depth in women's tennis, I really do believe in the last few years, has gotten so strong," she added. "There's no straight sailing to the quarters or semis. It doesn't exist."

Stephens agrees the Australian Open field is still extremely tough, even without Williams, the 23-time major winner. Williams withdrew from the tournament to recover from health issues after a complicated childbirth in September.

"There's a lot of great players," Stephens said. "It's up for grabs."

A new face will be holding the trophy at Melbourne Park in two weeks. The No. 1-ranking changed seven times in 2017, with five different women assuming top spot - three for the first time.

Top-ranked Simona Halep is looking to finally break through and win her first major after twice finishing runner-up. She won the season-opening Shenzhen Open in China, but has mixed results at Melbourne Park, losing in the first round the last two years.

"I don't feel pressure. I feel OK. I feel fit. I feel ready to start," Halep said. "I have one more goal: to win a Grand Slam."

Stephens made a stellar run to the U.S. Open title after missing several months with an injured left foot. She's struggled to adjust to the sudden stardom that's come with being a Grand Slam champion - losing seven straight matches since September - but believes she can find her game again in Melbourne.

"I think it's always a tough transition when you go from not playing tennis for 11 months to winning a Grand Slam," she said. "I like to just stay in my own little bubble and do my own thing. ... It's kind of been what I'm trying to do."

There are plenty of other contenders. Ostapenko, now 20, rocketed up the rankings after her stunning win at the French Open. Venus Williams is a threat at 37 years old after finishing runner-up to her sister last year. Angelique Kerber, the 2016 Australian Open winner, won the Sydney International title on Saturday.

Garbine Muguruza is the reigning Wimbledon champion, though her health has been in question at the start of the new year. Caroline Wozniacki had a career-reviving 2017 season and could return to the No. 1 ranking for the first time in six years with a strong showing in Melbourne.

Maria Sharpova, the 2008 winner, returns after missing last year's Australian Open because of a drug suspension.

And then there's Elina Svitolina, who earned her 10th tour title last week at the Brisbane International. She has a shot at No. 1 during the Australian Open.

"I had a great week in Brisbane. Of course, I'm confident," she said.

But she added that isn't enough in the constantly shifting, ultra-competitive women's game.

"Everyone wants to win a Grand Slam," Svitolina said. "So, I try to find my way, what can help me to be there, to be ready for the fight."

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • NationalMore>>

  • NYC sets affordable homes record: 24,500 financed in 2017

    NYC sets affordable homes record: 24,500 financed in 2017

    Tuesday, January 16 2018 5:13 AM EST2018-01-16 10:13:29 GMT
    Tuesday, January 16 2018 3:53 PM EST2018-01-16 20:53:54 GMT
    Officials say New York City created or preserved over 24,500 affordable homes last year, breaking a record for the nation's biggest city.
    Officials say New York City created or preserved over 24,500 affordable homes last year, breaking a record for the nation's biggest city.
  • Ex-doctor's victims recount sex abuse as young gymnasts

    Ex-doctor's victims recount sex abuse as young gymnasts

    Tuesday, January 16 2018 10:53 AM EST2018-01-16 15:53:59 GMT
    Tuesday, January 16 2018 3:58 PM EST2018-01-16 20:58:24 GMT

    One of the dozens of sexual abuse victims of a disgraced former Michigan sports doctor has warned at his sentencing hearing that "little girls don't stay little forever.".

    One of the dozens of sexual abuse victims of a disgraced former Michigan sports doctor has warned at his sentencing hearing that "little girls don't stay little forever.".

  • Attorney in Greitens' office sought information on affair

    Attorney in Greitens' office sought information on affair

    Tuesday, January 16 2018 3:13 PM EST2018-01-16 20:13:35 GMT
    Tuesday, January 16 2018 3:57 PM EST2018-01-16 20:57:44 GMT
    An attorney who works in the office of Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens reached out to a suburban St. Louis attorney on a fact-finding mission hours before news of the governor's extramarital affair broke.
    An attorney who works in the office of Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens reached out to a suburban St. Louis attorney on a fact-finding mission hours before news of the governor's extramarital affair broke.
Powered by Frankly