In the first of a new series of exclusive WTA columns, Martina Navratilova sets out her thoughts on contenders for the Australian Open and her hopes for the new season.
Martina Navratilova
January 12, 2018

I've always had a soft spot for Petra Kvitova - after all, she's a Czech lefty like me - and my admiration and affection for her has only grown due to the way she has fought back to form over the last 12 months.

So top of my wish list for this tennis year is for Kvitova to win a Grand Slam again; that would be amazing to see. And that's a wish that could come true over the coming two weeks. In the absence of Serena Williams, I believe it's entirely possible Kvitova could end up landing the title at the Australian Open, which begins at Melbourne Park on Monday, and what a story that would be.  

Read more: Insider Analysis: Halep's tough road, early round clashes highlight AO18 draw

Kvitova's attacking tennis, which is built around the might of her serve, brought her two Wimbledon titles in 2011 and 2014, and the Plexicushion courts in Melbourne are lightning quick - like grass, only faster - so the surface should be perfect for her. Since returning to tennis, Kvitova has come back so strong, including reaching the quarter-finals of last season's US Open, where she came close to beating Venus Williams, so she has performed at a high level.

In an exclusive column for the WTA, Martina Navratilova outlines her three wishes for the 2018 season.

Both physically and psychologically, Kvitova has shown such strength since the incident at her home which left her with nerve damage to her playing hand. I'm closer to Kvitova than any other player in this generation and, from the conversations we've had over the past year, I've realised that the reason she has coped with everything is that she is very secure in her own skin. She has a really good sense of who she is, and doesn't put her self-worth into whether she wins tennis matches or not, which is helpful. On top of that, Kvitova has a good support system around her - she's very close to her family and friends. She's just a good, strong Czech. Maybe there's something in the water!

If I have any concerns about Kvitova, it's that the weather in Melbourne is notoriously brutal and she can struggle in the heat with her asthma. So the weather could be her biggest enemy in Melbourne. If I was her, I would be begging for night matches. If Kvitova can avoid the heat, we could see her lifting the trophy at the Australian Open, which would be incredible.

Petra Kvitova (Getty Images)
Navratilova wants Petra Kvitova to win her third career Grand Slam in 2018. (Getty Images)

Another compelling storyline would be if Venus Williams took all the Melbourne limelight. While this tournament is wide open, and there are a number of players who could win the title, I would give Williams a slight edge over the others.

If she's healthy, I wouldn't be at all surprised if she gets it done at the Australian Open for what would be her first Grand Slam title for 10 years, since the 2008 Wimbledon Championships. She's 37 years old; at her age, winning a Grand Slam would be a ridiculous achievement, especially as it would be her first Australian Open title. Last year, Williams came so close in Melbourne, when she was the runner-up to her younger sister, and now she goes into the tournament knowing she won't have to deal with Serena, and that should put some pep in her step.  

Like Kvitova, she should love the speed of the courts, with the ball coming through on to her racket. The bounce, which won't be too high, should also be to her liking. And, of all the players who could win the title, she's the best of the lot at performing when under pressure. So, as well as the game and the confidence to win the Australian Open, Williams also has the experience.  

Venus Williams (Getty Images)
Navratilova tips Venus Williams for Australian Open success. (Getty Images)

My second wish for the tennis year would be for Simona Halep to win a first Grand Slam, as she's due, but it's by no means certain that she will leave Melbourne as the World No.1. Amazingly, there are five women - Caroline Wozniacki, Elina Svitolina, Garbine Muguruza, Karolina Pliskova and Jelena Ostapenko - who could dislodge Halep from the top of the rankings and it's going to be interesting to see how those players react to the additional pressure that comes with that.

Read more: No.1 Chase: The Fab Five hunting Halep in Melbourne

You can imagine that any one of those six women in contention for WTA World No.1 ranking could end up winning the Australian Open. The surface could be good for Pliskova. She hasn't always been consistent so, if she can get through the first week, then she can be dangerous. The same could be said for Muguruza. Maybe the courts are a little too fast for Halep. Ostapenko should like the surface, even if she prefers clay. She's still a work in progress. She came out of nowhere winning the French Open last year. Let's see if she has made any improvements in the off-season but certainly she would be one of the favourites.  

With those six, and also Kvitova and Venus Williams, there are at least eight contenders for the title, if not more - you have to think that Agnieszka Radwanska is another player who will like such a fast surface. And let's not forget about Angelique Kerber, a former Australian Open champion, who was the World No.1 this time last year.

Simona Halep (Getty Images)
2018 is the year for World No.1 Simona Halep to win her maiden Slam, says Navratilova. (Getty Images)

Traditionally, the Australian Open is the the most unpredictable of the Grand Slam tournaments, with more surprise winners than in Paris, London and New York, and that's primarily because it's the first major of the year, and some players aren't quite up to snuff, having taken a long break over the off-season. It will probably only be around the start of the second week, as the field thins out, that we will start to get a clearer idea of who might win the title.

That brings me on to my third wish for the 2018 season - I want everyone to be healthy and to play their best tennis.