By Jane Voigt
Venus Williams lost in the first round. The French Open, Wimbledon and U. S. Open champions Jelena Ostapenko, Garbine Muguzura and Sloane Stephens respectively, are gone; and, Serena Williams, the Australian Open champ from 2017, withdrew before a ball was struck. She wasn’t ready to compete like she knows she can compete, after having a baby in September and spending the prior eight months preparing for motherhood. So, in the women’s singles category only 13 of the original 32 women’s seeds are either in the second week or poised to get there by Saturday night.
This is not normal. But who’s to say what is normal when last year six different women on the WTA Tour held the number one ranking at one time or another.
What we do know is this. The top seed and current number-one player Simona Halep (right) is alive, even after a scary tumble that looked to have injured her ankle. Caroline Wozniacki, seeded second, is also through to round four after a contentious tussle with Kiki Bertens (No. 30) late last night. Contentious in the sense that “Sunshine,” a nickname her Adidas team gave her, was a bundle of contradictions in her close encounters with the chair umpire who would not yield to her complaints about a wet spot at the baseline then a line call and who know what else, as she sniped his way at every changeover. Wozniacki might appear to be and act, most of the time, like a level-headed competitor with her bright smile, blonde hair and NBA fiancé; however, she goes off rail rather easily when a match veers in a direction counter to her perceptions.
In the American camp is Madison Keys (No. 17), the U.S. Open finalist, slugging her way through the draw with little fanfare after months off and rehab on her right wrist. Keep an eye on Madison.
Now for the relatively unknowns. There’s Lucky Loser Bernarda Pera, also an American, ranked well outside the top 100. She lost in the final round of qualification, but hung around long enough that her name was called up just as she was about to book a flight home. This lucky woman beat Johanna Konta of Great Britain, 6-4, 7-5, a stellar sprint to round three over a strongly favorited ninth seed. One other American, Lauren Davis, is alive, as well. She faces Halep Saturday.
The top quarter, in the bottom part of the draw, is a bevy of new faces and unforeseen opportunities. This is the section where Venus (No. 5), Sloane Stephens (No. 13), Ekaterina Makarova (No. 31), Aussie-favorite Daria Gavrilova (No. 23), Julia Goerges (No. 12) and Daria Kasatkina (No. 22) staked their hopes for a deep run.
Instead, Croatian Petra Martic, 28, has advanced to the third consecutive fourth round of a Grand Slam, the best results to date. She played a tournament in Aukland earlier this month, then skipped Hobart to practice for the Australian Open.
“From match to match [now] I just feel better and better,” Martic said in her post-match press conference today, after defeating Qualifier Luksika Kumkhum of Thailand, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5.
Martic faces Elisa Mertens Sunday The Belgian is making her main draw debut in Melbourne in only her fourth Grand Slam appearance. At 22, she was one of the biggest movers on tour, jumping 90 spots to No. 37 from this time last year. She’s on a 7-game winning streak, after having defended her Hobart title last week.
Czech Republic Qualifier Denisa Allertova has advanced to round four — the farthest ever at any Grand Slam — taking full advantage of losses by Stephens and Ksatkina in this section. Allertova, currently ranked No. 130, has not dropped a set either. When we think big servers, we usually picture Serena Williams. However, in 2015, Allertova whacked a 124.9 mph serve. It was the eighth fastest recorded serve of all time. She will have her hands full Sunday, facing Elina Svitolina (No. 4).
Saturday is packed with marquee matches, as the top half swings into week two. Yet you won’t want to miss the matchup between the only two former Australian Open champions alive in this draw: Angelique Kerber (2016) and Maria Sharapova (2008). They are the first match on Rod Laver Arena for the night session. If you’re on the East Coast of the United States, that’s 3 a.m. Could be worth setting an alarm for.