There was no battle for No. 1 at the last Grand Slam, the 2018 US Open. Simona Halep had it locked up before the tournament even began, but the Romanian will be under all sorts of pressure at the upcoming Australian Open, as 10 other players have a shot at the top ranking.
The entire rest of the WTA Top 10—Angelique Kerber, Caroline Wozniacki, Naomi Osaka, Sloane Stephens, Petra Kvitova, Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova, Kiki Bertens and Daria Kasatkina—as well as the No. 11-ranked player in the world, Aryna Sabalenka—can all leave Melbourne No. 1.
All of those players have to at least reach the quarterfinals just to have a chance of overtaking Halep. Osaka, Stephens and Kvitova will be in contention for the No. 1 ranking should they reach the quarterfinals; Kerber needs to reach at least the semifinals; Svitolina, Pliskova and Bertens need to reach at least the final; and Wozniacki, Kasatkina and Sabalenka must win the title just to have a shot.
And the deeper Halep goes, the more players she eliminates from the race. Just by taking the court for her first-round match she’ll eliminate Kasatkina, and by winning it she’ll eliminate Sabalenka.
Halep is in a much different place than she was going into last year’s Australian Open—she has a Grand Slam title now, the French Open, but she’s only played one match since the end of September.
“It’s different because last year I had about 10, 15 matches before Melbourne, and this year I only have one, which I lost,” said Halep, referring to her opening-round loss to Ashleigh Barty in Sydney.
“I took the risk staying home a little bit longer. I rested because I felt like I’m exhausted after those tournaments and also the year that I had. I enjoyed the time home a lot. Now I feel refreshed to start the year, but I’m still a little bit behind with everything, like my preparation and playing matches.
“But I don’t complain. Everything’s how I wanted. Now I have to put my head down and go to work.”
One of the leading challengers for the top ranking, Svitolina, has been talking more in recent months about her desire to win a Grand Slam title and getting to No. 1. Having just won the next-biggest tournament, the WTA Finals last October, the Ukrainian is one of the favorites in Melbourne.
“I played great in the end of the season, but the main goal for me is to be No. 1 and win a Grand Slam,” she said. “I’ll try not to think about it so much, though, and not have this pressure, because everyone is fighting for the same thing, and there’s enough pressure that’s put on us. It motivates me, of course. But for me it’s about playing good tennis and being 100 percent ready for each match.”
For Svitolina, and many others, the goal of becoming No. 1 and winning a major can come in one fell swoop.
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