Coco vs. Venus, Part II: Top 5 women's Australian Open first-rounders

Coco vs. Venus, Part II: Top 5 women's Australian Open first-rounders

Also: early tests for Barty, Pliskova and Halep.

A rematch of a Wimbledon stunner, and one of the most talked-about tennis matches of 2019, are among a slew of women’s first-rounders to watch at the 2020 Australian Open. Here are the top five:

ALSO: The Top 5 Men's First Rounders

Venus Williams (USA) vs. Coco Gauff (USA)

A little over six months ago, Gauff burst into prominence at Wimbledon, stunning five-time Wimbledon champion Venus in the first round. She would make it all the way to the fourth round in her Grand Slam debut before falling to the eventual champion, Simona Halep.

“Obviously I literally got my dream draw, so I’m just super happy I was able to pull it out today,” Gauff said after the 6-4, 6-4 victory over Venus, whom she’s described as an inspiration and her hero.

And now, for the second time in the last three Grand Slams—the first three Grand Slams of the 15-year-old's career—the two will play each other in the first round.

Gauff is in a completely different place after six months. At Wimbledon, she was a 313rd-ranked wildcard who came out of qualifying; now, she’s No. 66. Venus, meanwhile, has dipped from No. 44 to No. 55, and hasn’t played a match since losing in first round of Tianjin in October. The seven-time major champion hasn’t won a match since September. Snapping that slump with this win would be significant—and, probably, an upset.

[1] Ashleigh Barty (AUS) vs. Lesia Tsurenko (UKR)

A year ago, Barty came into the Australian Open ranked No. 15 in the world and looking to reach the quarterfinals of a major for the first time. She’s now a Grand Slam champion and the world No. 1. She lost her first match of the year in Brisbane to American Jennifer Brady, but she’s through to the semifinals of Adelaide this week. The big question is, how will the Aussie handle all of the newfound attention at her home major?

After missing the last three months of 2019 with a right elbow injury, Tsurenko is ranked No. 120, but she was ranked as high as No. 23 last February, and she’s more than capable of big upsets. She has eight career Top 10 wins, all having come in the last five years. The Ukrainian also defeated Barty the last time they played, in 2018, in Brisbane. They’re 1-1 overall.

[4] Simona Halep (ROU) vs. Jennifer Brady (USA)

Halep had an historic 2019, not just winning her second Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, but handing Serena Williams her worst-ever loss in a Grand Slam final. Halep cooled off a bit the rest of the year, going 7-7, and she’s now 8-8 since Wimbledon after falling to Aryna Sabalenka in the quarterfinals of Adelaide this week:

Brady, meanwhile, recently had one of the biggest weeks of her career, beating Maria Sharapova and Barty—her first win over a No. 1—en route to the quarterfinals of Brisbane. She also gave Halep everything she could handle in the pair’s only previous meeting, coming within two points of the upset before falling in Toronto last summer, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (5). Can Halep hold the American off again?

[2] Karolina Pliskova (CZE) vs. Kristina Mladenovic (FRA)

Pliskova had a great start to 2020 last week, winning one of the biggest tournaments of the lead-up season in Brisbane, snapping Naomi Osaka’s 14-match winning streak along the way. The former No. 1 is still looking for her first Grand Slam title, but she’s reached the quarterfinals or better the last three years in Melbourne, so getting the monkey off her back Down Under isn’t such a longshot.

The current No. 2 will need to be sharp right away. Mladenovic has a knack for the upset—she has 17 career Top 10 wins, including five last year. Both of her wins over No. 1s came last year, too, defeating Osaka in Dubai, and Barty in an epic in the Fed Cup final.

The two are 2-2 head-to-head, with Mladenovic winning their most recent meeting in Dubai in 2017.

[19] Donna Vekic (CRO) vs. [WC] Maria Sharapova (RUS)

It was a rough 2019 for Sharapova, who was limited to just eight tournaments and 15 matches due to continued struggles with her right shoulder. A five-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1, she’s currently down at No. 145, and is in the 2020 Australian Open as a wild card.

Sharapova beat Vekic in their only previous meeting, in the second round of Roland Garros in 2018, 7-5, 6-4, but the roles of favorite and underdog are reversed now that she’s out of the Top 100 and Vekic is a Top 20 player. The Russian has also lost her last five matches against Top 20 players.