AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2021: Serena tries for No. 24; Barty’s back

Women to watch at the Australian Open:

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ASH BARTY

Ranked: 1

Country: Australia

Age: 24

2020 Match Record: 11-3

2020 Singles Titles: 1

Career Singles Titles: 8

Grand Slam Singles Titles: 1 — French Open (2019)

Last 5 Australian Opens: 2020-Lost in Semifinals, 2019-Lost in Quarterfinals, 2018-Lost in 3rd Round, 2017-Lost in 3rd Round, 2016-Did Not Play

Aces: Did not play in 2020 after February, saying the pandemic did not allow her to properly prepare. … Restrictions on travel within Australia meant she was unable to work with her coach, Craig Tyzzer, for six months; they live in different states. … Could give Australia its first women’s champion at its home Grand Slam tournament since Chris O’Neil in 1978.

Matchup to Watch For: Could face Anett Kontaveit, a 2020 quarterfinalist at Melbourne Park, in the fourth round.

Words: “I’ve been kind of a little bit impatient the last two or three months … getting excited to start and play again.” — Barty

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SIMONA HALEP

Ranked: 2

Country: Romania

Age: 29

2020 Match Record: 23-3

2020 Singles Titles: 3

Career Singles Titles: 22

Grand Slam Singles Titles: 2 — French Open (1: 2018), Wimbledon (1: 2019)

Last 5 Australian Opens: 2020-SF, 2019-4th, 2018-Runner-Up, 2017-1st, 2016-1st

Aces: More than 345 consecutive weeks ranked in the Top 10, the eighth-longest run in the history of the WTA. … Compiled career-best winning streak of 17 matches last season. … Her pair of Grand Slam titles came on clay and grass courts, but certainly has proven capable of deep runs on Melbourne Park’s hard courts.

Matchup to Watch For: Could face French Open champion Iga Swiatek in the fourth round.

Words: “At the beginning of the year it’s always tough, so we cannot say one player has to win, is (the) favorite, because they don’t have matches and it’s tough to find the rhythm.” — Halep

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NAOMI OSAKA

Ranked: 3

Country: Japan

Age: 23

2020 Match Record: 16-3

2020 Singles Titles: 1

Career Singles Titles: 6

Grand Slam Singles Titles: 3 — Australian Open (1: 2019), U.S. Open (2: 2018, 2020)

Last 5 Australian Opens: 2020-3rd, 2019-Won Championship, 2018-4th, 2017-2nd, 2016-3rd

Aces: 2020 AP Female Athlete of the Year. … Since start of 2019, is 27-4 in 3-setters, a tour-best .871 winning percentage. … Took the rest of 2020 off after winning her third Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open, where she dealt with a hamstring issue. … Pulled out of her tuneup semifinal Saturday with an unspecified “niggling injury.”

Matchup to Watch For: Could face No. 27 seed Ons Jabeur, a quarterfinalist a year ago in Australia, in the third round.

Words: “I know that I have a really weird, like, career in the way that I don’t really do that great at small tournaments, so I’m hoping to, like, fix that.” — Osaka

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SOFIA KENIN

Ranked: 4

Country: United States

Age: 22

2020 Match Record: 24-9

2020 Singles Titles: 2

Career Singles Titles: 5

Grand Slam Singles Titles: 1 — Australian Open (2020)

Last 5 Australian Opens: 2020-W, 2019-2nd, 2018-1st, 2017-DNP, 2016-DNP

Aces: Returns to the site of her first Grand Slam title and at a career-high in the rankings. … 2020 WTA Player of the Year. … One of two women (Petra Kvitova) to reach at least the fourth round at every major last season, including a run to the final at the French Open. … Said she dealt with sore left groin and glute muscles during her loss in a tuneup tournament.

Matchup to Watch For: Could face 2020 U.S. Open semifinalist and big-hitting American Jennifer Brady in the fourth round.

Words: “I’ll somehow have to figure out a way to handle nerves, of course.” — Kenin, on trying to defend a Grand Slam title for the first time

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BIANCA ANDREESCU

Ranked: 8

Country: Canada

Age: 20

2020 Match Record: 0-0

2020 Singles Titles: 0

Career Singles Titles: 3

Grand Slam Singles Titles: 1 — U.S. Open (2019)

Last 5 Australian Opens: 2020-DNP, 2019-2nd, 2018-DNP, 2017-DNP, 2016-DNP

Aces: Australian Open will be first tournament in 15 months. Last competed in October 2019, when she stopped playing during a match because of a torn meniscus in her left knee. … That was shortly after she beat Serena Williams in the U.S. Open final for her third title of 2019. That was only Andreescu’s fourth Grand Slam appearance. … Pulled out of an Australian Open tuneup tournament, saying she didn’t feel she was quite ready.

Matchup to Watch For: Could face seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams in the third round.

Words: “I’ve prepared in the best way that I could. I had a good five-month preseason, I would say. Yeah, at this point, I’m just super grateful to be back, healthy. And, yeah, I’m really looking forward to it.” — Andreescu, on returning to action

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SERENA WILLIAMS

Ranked: 11

Country: United States

Age: 39

2020 Match Record: 17-5

2020 Singles Titles: 1

Career Singles Titles: 73

Grand Slam Singles Titles: 23 — Australian Open (7: 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2015, 2017), French Open (3: 2002, 2013, 2015), Wimbledon (7: 2002, 2003, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2015, 2016), U.S. Open (6: 1999, 2002, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2014)

Last 5 Australian Opens: 2020-3rd, 2019-QF, 2018-DNP, 2017-W, 2016-RU

Aces: A 24th Grand Slam singles title would equal Margaret Court for most in tennis history; Williams holds the record of 23 in the professional era. … Pulled out of an Australian Open tuneup tournament before the semifinals, citing a right shoulder issue; given that she rarely plays the week before a Grand Slam tournament, that might have just been to avoid too much work before the main event. She said the next day she felt confident it would be fine. … Last year’s third-round loss to Wang Qiang was Williams’ earliest exit at Melbourne Park in 14 years.

Matchup to Watch For: Could face powerful Aryna Sabalenka, who is seeded No. 7, in the fourth round.

Words: “With all the new things, all the new technology, all the new physical treatments, rehab, things that you can do, I don’t know what that age means any more.” — Williams, who turns 40 in September

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