MELBOURNE, Australia - The draw is out for the 2019 Australian Open, which sees No.1 Simona Halep drafted a tough draw to a final return, while Serena Williams, Angelique Kerber, Karolina Pliskova, and defending champion Caroline Wozniacki emerge as favorites.
To see the full draw click here. The main draw begins on Monday, January 14th.
Top eight seeds: Simona Halep, Angelique Kerber, Caroline Wozniacki, Naomi Osaka, Sloane Stephens, Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova, Petra Kvitova.
Top half: Halep, Osaka, Svitolina, Pliskova.
Bottom half: Kerber, Wozniacki, Stephens, Kvitova. Projected Round of 16: Simona Halep vs. Serena Williams, Daria Kasatkina vs. Karolina Pliskova, Naomi Osaka vs. Anastasija Sevastova, Elise Mertens vs. Elina Svitolina, Petra Kvitova vs. Aryna Sabalenka, Ashleigh Barty vs. Caroline Wozniacki, Sloane Stephens vs. Kiki Bertens, Julia Goerges vs. Angelique Kerber.
Last year's final: Caroline Wozniacki d. Simona Halep, 7-6, 3-6, 6-4.
Notable first round matches: Simona Halep vs. Kaia Kanepi, Venus Williams vs. Mihaela Buzarnsecu, Daria Kasatkina, Johanna Konta vs. Ajla Tomljanovic, Victoria Azarenka vs. Laura Siegemund, Madison Keys vs. Destanee Aiava, Belinda Bencic vs. Katerina Siniakova, Barbora Strycova vs. Yulia Putintseva, Monica Niculescu vs. Amanda Anisimova, Jelena Ostapenko vs. Maria Sakkari, Timea Babos vs. Ons Jabeur, Anastasia Pavlyuchenova vs. Monica Puig, Kiki Bertens vs. Alison Riske, Julia Goerges vs. Danielle Collins, Donna Vekic vs. Kristina Mladenovic.
Simona Halep handed a tough quarter.
On the whole, this draw is fairly balanced aside from this first quarter led by World No.1 Simona Halep. The Romanian played a good first match of the season against Ashleigh Barty in her opening round of the Sydney International, losing 6-4, 6-4, but she'll have to shake off her rust for a US Open rematch against the dangerous Estonian Kaia Kanepi in the first round in Melbourne. Kanepi blasted Halep off the court in New York and she's always capable of doing the same in any given match.
Should Halep make it through that match she could face rising American star Sonya Kenin in the second round before either Venus Williams or Mihaela Buzarnescu in the third round. From there, Serena Williams looms in the Round of 16. No way around it, Halep got the toughest first-week draw of any of the Top 4 seeds.
Serena Williams' tricky path to No.24
The seven-time Australian Open champion continues her chase for history in Melbourne, as she looks to equal Margaret Court's all-time record of 24 major singles titles. After coming back from maternity leave, Serena has made the final of the last two majors but has yet to win a set in either of those championship showdowns. But the American returns to the site of happy memories at Melbourne Park, where she won her last major in 2017. A win this year would make the Australian Open her most successful Slam.
Serena has been drawn into Halep's section of the draw in the top half, and open her tournament against Germany's Tatijana Maria. Serena could face a resurgent Eugenie Bouchard in the second round, and the first seed she could face would be Spain's Carla Suárez Navarro. A Round of 16 showdown with No.1 Halep looms, though the Romanian is coming off her own injury layoff, with Brisbane International champion Karolina Pliskova or Garbiñe Muguruza potentially looming in the quarterfinals.
Serena could see a US Open final rematch against Naomi Osaka in the semifinals, though Elina Svitolina could also be waiting in the late stages, with an in-form Angelique Kerber waiting in the final, a rematch of both the 2018 Wimbledon final (Kerber won), 2016 Wimbledon final (Serena won), and 2016 Australian Open final (Kerber won).
Karolina Pliskova is the one to beat in the second section.
The Brisbane International champion is the favorite to escape her section of the draw, which includes Daria Kasatkina and Garbiñe Muguruza. The biggest threat to Pliskova in the first week is big-hitting Camila Giorgi, who looked sharp in her loss to Angelique Kerber in Sydney last week.
Kasatkina and Muguruza could be set for a collision course in the Round of 16. Kasatkina opens against Timea Bacsinszky, who is still working her way back from injury (though the Swiss had a solid run to the quarterfinals of the Sydney International). Muguruza could face a tough second-round match with either Johanna Konta or Ajla Tomljanovic.
Naomi Osaka and Elina Svitolina lead the second quarter with Azarenka looming.
With their Brisbane results, Osaka snagged a No.4 seed, while Svitolina fell out of the Top 4 to earn a No.6 seed. The two are projected to face off in the quarterfinals, but two-time champion Victoria Azarenka looms in this section, along with 2018 US Open semifinalist Anastasija Sevastova, 2018 Australian Open semifinalist Elise Mertens, and 2018 US Open semifinalist Madison Keys.
A two time champion in Melbourne, Azarenka is making her return after a three-year absence. She opens against Laura Siegemund and could play Hsieh Su-Wei in the second round before a showdown with Osaka in the third round.
Defending champion Caroline Wozniacki and Petra Kvitova have tough tasks.
Wozniacki has been drawn into the bottom half of the draw and could face Maria Sharapova in the third round. While injury and form concerns linger around Sharapova, Wozniacki's toughest task could be home favorite Ashleigh Barth in the Round of 16.
Kvitova could face a rematch of her first-round match here in Melbourne last year against Andrea Petkovic in the second round, with a potential third round match looming against the incredibly dangerous Aryna Sabalenka. The two faced off in Sydney last week, with Kvitova prevailing in straight sets, but it should be a far tougher task to knock off the 2019 Shenzhen Open champion when she's well-rested. Sabalenka, who is looming right outside the Top 10, has no points to defend at the first three Slams of the season. A Top 10 debut is imminent.
Angelique Kerber and Sloane Stephens anchor the last quarter
World No.2 Kerber has looked sharp in her singles displays at the Hopman Cup and this week in Sydney. It took a monumental effort from Halep last year to stop Kerber's stunning January run, and the German looks poised for a similar charge towards her fourth major title.
Kerber opens against Polona Hercog and could face Donna Vekic, Julia Goerges, and Stephens en route to the semifinals, where Wozniacki could be looming. Things are set up well for the German in Melbourne, where she was a champion in 2016, defeating Serena Williams in the final.
A semifinalist in 2013, Stephens hasn't had the ideal lead-up to Melbourne, but the American has proven time again that she can generate momentum out of nowhere. She opens against Taylor Townsend and could face either Ons Jabeur or Timea Babos in the second round, with Kiki Bertens or Anett Kontaveitt looming in the Round of 16.