Can Serena Williams take home another title? Photo: Saeed KHAN / AFP
Can Serena Williams take home another title? Photo: Saeed KHAN / AFPSource: AFP

Picking the winner of any women’s tennis tournament is about as easy as finding a needle in a haystack.

With the exception of the incomparable Serena Williams, there have been few players to consistently make Grand Slam finals, let alone win them.

In stark contrast to the men’s tour, where the ‘Big Four’ has dominated for more than a decade, the women’s tour has been consistently inconsistent.

Throw in the unpredictability that walks hand-in-hand with the Australian Open — where players could be returning from injury or struggling for early season form — and it’s anyone’s guess as to who will be crowned champion.

FULL AUS OPEN DRAW: AUSSIE MEN HANDED BRUTAL OPENERS

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In other words, 18 women have triumphed at either the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon or the US Open since 2010.

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To put those numbers into perspective, only six men — Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic — have done the same.

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Williams returns to Melbourne Park for the first time since giving birth to her daughter and will have a fire in her belly after capitulating in the final at Flushing Meadows.

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But there are a plethora of other women who are more than capable of winning the championship, whether it be their first Grand Slam title or not.

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THE PROVEN WARRIORS

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Let’s start with world No. 1 Simona Halep.

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The Romanian finally broke through to claim her first major at Roland Garros in 2018, after countless years where she failed to translate her tour form to the Grand Slams.

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Now that monkey is off her back, Halep is a very dangerous proposition at Melbourne Park, where she was the runner up last year.

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So, too, is Angelique Kerber. The German has returned from the end of year break in terrific shape and, thus far, is unbeaten in 2019.

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A powerful hitter who has fond memories of defeating Williams at the Australian Open in 2016, Kerber has won every major bar the French.

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Then there’s reigning champion Caroline Wozniacki.

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The Dane, like Halep, finally achieved a major — after years of being a top-10 player — in 2018.

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While you can’t discount Wozniacki, the 28-year-old has been battling rheumatoid arthritis.

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The condition has abated for now, but it can flare up at any time.

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Other Grand Slam winners to watch: Osaka, Sloane Stephens, Petra Kvitova, Jelena Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza.

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THOSE SEARCHING FOR THEIR FIRST GRAND SLAM

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At world No. 6, Elina Svitolina is the highest ranked player without a major to her name.

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The 24-year-old Ukrainian has won 13 WTA titles — most recently, and significantly, at the 2018 WTA Finals — but has yet to reach the semi-final stage of a Grand Slam.

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If you’re reading the tea leaves right that should change in 2019. It could be at Melbourne Park, where Svitolina reached the quarters last year.

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Karolina Pliskova, who claimed her second Brisbane International title last week, also can’t be discounted.

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The world No. 7 has a huge serve and has teamed up with Australian coach Rennae Stubbs, who has helped clean up Pliskova’s work at the net.

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Someone who doesn’t need any help with her volleys, however, is Ash Barty.

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The Australian is our best local hope and with the best slice backhand in the business will certainly trouble the top seeds. She’s already claimed the massive scalp of Halep this year.

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Other players you can’t discount: Madison Keys, Daria Kasatkina, Aryna Sabalenka, Elise Mertens, Julia Goerges, Carolina Garcia, Anett Kontaveit.

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THE SERENA SITUATION

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As a seven time winner at Melbourne Park, you can never ever discount Williams. Ever.

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As the 37-year-old showed at the US Open, she still has all of the tricks and all of the power to match it with the younger brigade of women coming through the ranks.

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In securing the 2018 Australian Open title, Williams moved one Grand Slam clear of Steffi Graff to take her career tally to 23.

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She needs one more major to equal Australian Margaret Court’s record of 24. Two more in 2019 would see Williams as the unequivocal greatest of all time.

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Williams, of course, already has her name etched in the history books.

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But there’s no denying she’d like to finish her career, whenever that may be, on top.

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An emotional Andy Murray has broken down at a press conference on the eve of the Australian Open, saying he wants to retire at Wimbledon this year but may not make it that far.

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Asked how he was feeling after a practice match with Novak Djokovic on Thursday, Murray said “not great” before excusing himself and leaving the room in tears.

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The three time grand slam winner eventually returned to confirm he plans on retiring this year due to chronic hip pain.

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MORE TENNIS NEWS

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FULL AUS OPEN DRAW: AUSSIE MEN HANDED BRUTAL OPENERS

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‘THEY’RE AT LOGGERHEADS’: UGLY TENNIS FALLOUT REVEALED

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WHAT YOU CONTROVERSIALLY WON’T SEE AT THIS YEAR’S AUSTRALIAN OPEN

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“So I’m not feeling great,” he said.

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“Been struggling for a long time, I’ve been in a lot of pain for probably about 20 months.

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“I’ve pretty much done everything I could get my hip feeling better. I’m in a better place than I was six months ago but I’m still in a lot of pain. It’s been tough.”

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The five-time Australian Open runner-up will play at Melbourne Park but said “the pain is too much really. I don’t want to continue playing that way.”

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Murray said he would like to “stop playing” at Wimbledon, but added “I’m also not certain that I’m able to do that.”

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“I think there is a chance this is my last tournament. There’s a chance for sure. I’m not sure I’m able to play through the pain for another four or five months.”

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Murray saw his surgeon yesterday and is considering another operation, which would be more severe than his previous ones.

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“I can play with limitations. But having the limitations and the pain is not allowing me to enjoy competing or training,” he said.

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Andy Roddick led the charge on tributes to Murray, calling him an “absolute legend”.

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“If this is true, I tip my cap to @andy_murray ! Absolute legend. Short list of best tacticians in history,” he tweeted.

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“Unreal results in a brutal era …… Nothing but respect here. I hope he can finish strong and healthy.”

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If this is true, I tip my cap to @andy_murray ! Absolute legend. Short list of best tacticians in history. Unreal results in a brutal era …… Nothing but respect here. I hope he can finish strong and healthy https://t.co/FZbwmvRC2r

— andyroddick (@andyroddick) January 11, 2019

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Andy Murray’s tearful announcement that 2019 will be his last as a professional tennis player has been met with widespread shock, but also adulation.

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The former world No. 1 broke down at a press conference at Melbourne Park, saying he’s been “struggling for a long time” and that Wimbledon would be his last dance.

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FULL AUS OPEN DRAW: AUSSIE MEN HANDED BRUTAL OPENERS

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‘THEY’RE AT LOGGERHEADS’: UGLY TENNIS FALLOUT REVEALED

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The popular Scot — who has plumetted to No. 240 in the world after undergoing hip surgery last year — was immediately flooded with messages of support, with Andy Roddick leading the charge.

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“I tip my cap to Andy Murray,” Roddick said.

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“Absolute legend. Short list of best tacticians in history.

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“Unreal results in a brutal era. Nothing but respect here. I hope he can finish strong and healthy.”

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Roddick also suggested Murray could bow out of tennis by partnering up with his brother, Jamie, at Wimbledon.

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“Would be a pretty cool moment to play doubles (with) his bro at Wimby if he can’t play singles,” Roddick said.

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Just thinking out loud here. He deserves his moment to say goodbye at Wimbledon. He’s too important to Great Britain and Wimbledon history to not have it….. Would be a pretty cool moment to play doubles w his bro at Wimby if he can’t play singles https://t.co/m7caeL2shX

— andyroddick (@andyroddick) January 11, 2019

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WHAT YOU CONTROVERSIALLY WON’T SEE AT THIS YEAR’S AUSTRALIAN OPEN

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TENNIS WORLD IN AWE OF ‘BEST SHOT I’VE SEEN’

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DEMON WINS ALL-AUSSIE QUARTERFINAL TO ADVANCE IN SYDNEY

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THE SERENA SITUATION: IS IT THE CHAMPION AGAINST THE REST?

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Darren Cahill — who has coached the likes of Andre Agassi, Lleyton Hewitt and Simona Halep, as well as Murray — was confident Murray would retire a content man.

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“When you search for example of ‘emptied the bucket to be as good as they could be’ there should be a picture of Andy Murray sitting under that quote,” Cahill said.

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“Remarkable discipline for training, competition, sacrifice, perfection, a little crazy, but a legend of a bloke.

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“Bravo Andy.”

“},{“identifier”:””,”contentType”:”SCRIPT”,”body”:”

When you search for examples of “emptied the bucket to be as good as they could be” there should be a picture of Andy Murray sitting under that quote. Remarkable discipline for training, competition, sacrifice, perfection, a little crazy 😃 but a legend of a bloke. Bravo Andy 👏

— Darren Cahill (@darren_cahill) January 11, 2019

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A raw and emotional first press conference at this #AusOpen, with Andy Murray accepting his tennis mortality and saying that Wimbledon this year, at the latest, will be his \”end point.\”

— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) January 11, 2019

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