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By Richard Pagliaro | Wednesday, January 10, 2018

 
Simona Halep

Hall of Famer Chrissie Evert says Serena Williams' absence makes this Oz Open the most wide-open women's major in more than a decade.

Photo credit: Shenzhen Open/IMG

Oz is the opportunity Slam.

The absences of 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams and two-time champion Victoria Azarenka—combined with the lack of a dominant player—makes this Australian Open the most-wide open women’s Grand Slam in more than a decade, Hall of Famer Chrissie Evert asserts.

Watch: Serena Sets Sights on 25 Grand Slams 

In a conference call with the media to promote ESPN’s first-to-last ball Australian Open coverage, which begins on Sunday at 7 p.m. Eastern time on ESPN2, Evert said 20 different women are true title contenders in Melbourne.

“I think one of the reasons why [it’s so wide open] is because Serena has won 23,” Evert told the media. “I think that’s a very important factor that she has dominated so many years. It is interesting. There’s an abundance of talent out there. Yes, we have nobody—besides Serena—who has taken the bull by the horns since Serena’s been out of the game and started her own dominance.”

Only two former champions—2008 titlist Maria Sharapova and 2016 champion Angelique Kerber—are in the field.

The lack of a strong favorite—and unpredictability of the field—could create a compelling tournament, albeit it one without the star power and pursuit of history Serena brings, the former No. 1 said.

“On the other side of the coin, it’s probably more intriguing because you’ve got 20 players who can win a Grand Slam,” Evert said. “Certainly, you couldn’t have said that 10 years ago or even five years ago. Look at some of these players capable of winning it—Dominika Cibulkova’s [ranked] 26 in the world, [Agnieszka] Radwanska’s 28 in the world, Petra Kvitova is 29 in the world—I mean it’s unbelievable. The latent is plentiful right now so that’s what we have to celebrate—we no longer have a dominant player."



Welcome to the opportunity are in women's tennis.

“This is a new look at women’s tennis. This is the way it is right now," Evert said. "We’ll see when Serena comes back it might be a different story. It is intriguing. Before it wasn’t. We knew and respected the brilliance of Serena and we hailed her. But right now there’s just so much talent on there that if you were to ask me to pick a player to win the Australian Open, which I hope you don’t, because I have no idea.”

Fifteen of the world’s Top 20—Simona Halep, Caroline Wozniacki, Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova, Caroline Garcia, Johanna Konta, CoCo Vandeweghe, Kristina Mladenovic, Julia Goerges, Anastasija Sevastova, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Elena Vesnina, Madison Keys, Ashleigh Barty and Magdalena Rybarikova—arrive in Melbourne playing for a maiden major.



Oddschecker has 2016 US Open finalist Pliskova as a slight favorite ahead of two-time French Open finalist Halep followed by Garbine Muguruza, Svitolina, Kerber, Sharapova and Wozniacki. Bettors have been showing increasing interest in 2017 finalist Venus Williams.

“For the women’s, Venus Williams is proving most popular with 13 percent of all betting after her sister dropped out,” Oddschecker spokesman Callum Wilson told Tennis Now. “She is 25 to 1 to win the tournament.”

World No. 1 Halep swept both singles and doubles titles at the Shenzhen Open last week.


 

Happy to be back in Melbourne 🤗 #myteam#bestteam 🤗

A post shared by Simona Halep (@simonahalep) on



Evert believes the 26-year-old Romanian’s early-season success—combined with the sorrow of squandering a one-set, 3-0 lead bowing to Ostapenko in the 2017 French Open final—will help Halep get over the Grand Slam finish line. Though it’s not exactly a rousing endorsement for a player who has failed to survive the first round in four of seven career Australian Open appearances, including successive opening-round losses.

“I say this without a lot of conviction, but I feel like Simona Halep had such a disappointing 2017 in the majors, and I feel she is determined to turn that around,” Evert said. “I mean, she had a heartbreaking 2017 in all the majors. I just feel like she's playing the best tennis right now, playing the most solid tennis. I think she has good training.

"In the fall, with every interview I see, every time I see her on TV or Twitter, she has a big smile on her face. I think she's personally in a good frame of mind. She's liking being No. 1. She's enjoying that. She's embracing it. She's not fearful of it. I say that, again, without 100 percent conviction, but I'm going to have to pick her as my favorite.”

If Halep, whose best results down under were back-to-back quarterfinal finishes in 2014 and 2015, falters, Evert eyes Svitolina, Ostapenko, Keys, and D-squad darkhorses Daria Gavrilova and Daria Kasatkina as title contenders. 


 

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