A year ago, many people would have been wondering when the forty-nine time tennis legend, Venus Williams of America, would be retiring, but as we have come to know, the then 36 year old American still has a number of surprises in her bag.
Not only was she a finalist at the 2017 Australian Open and Wimbledon Grand Slam tournaments, a semi-finalist at the US Open and a finalist at the prestigious WTA Finals in Singapore, she has reinvented her career, continues to inspire many up and coming tennis players and has the pick of appearance engagements and endorsements at her fingertips.
So it comes as no surprise that, seeded fifth, she is still regarded as one of the favourites to capture the title, which will be her first singles one Down Under.
She faces a very tough first round opponent in Belinda Bencic of Switzerland. Bencic, who recently tasted Hopman Cup success with Roger Federer by clinching the title for their country in Perth, has never defeated Williams in their previous four encounters.
In a 2017 WTA “State of the Game” discussion featuring former multiple Grand Slam champions, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, Evert predicted that Venus Williams will retire at the end of this year.
Another player who is going from strength to strength is the former World No. 2 and two-time Wimbledon champion, Petra Kvitova.
The popular Czech player, who returned to the tour after a five month layoff resulting from being stabbed by an intruder in December 2016, won the Birmingham Classic tournament in June last year and enjoyed mixed success during the remainder of the year’s tournaments.
Kvitova was forced to withdraw from the Brisbane Open earlier this month due to a viral illness and if she can overcome the Melbourne heat, she will certainly be a force to be reckoned with.
Her first round opponent will be Andrea Petkovic of Germany. This will be their 10th meeting with Kvitova leading the H2H 5-4.
The third experienced player in this equation is Maria Sharapova of Russia, who won the Australian Open in 2008.
Sharapova, who returned to the tour after a reduced 15 month drug ban, also enjoyed mixed results in 2017, including winning the Tianjin Open in October.
Despite some players opposing her return to the tour, she remains a force to be reckoned with on court. As with Serena Williams, when you know you are coming up against Maria Sharapova, she is already a set up against you.
Off court, she remains a sponsor’s money spinner and with the release of her autobiography “Unstoppable : My life so far” in September 2017 and her candy line “Sugarpova”, she continues to make headlines.
She starts her 2018 Australian Open quest with a first round match against Tatjana Maria of Germany. It will be their first meeting on court.