The women’s Australian Open this year has shaped up to be the strongest Grand Slam we’ve seen from the ladies in a long time and I believe it’s no coincidence.
The top quarter of the draw alone features two fourth-round match-ups that could easily be the finals at any major. World No. 1 Simona Halep faces No. 16 seed and seven-time champion Serena Williams, while former US Open runner-up and No. 7 seed Karolina Pliskova takes on two-time Slam champion Garbine Muguruza.
Some other marquee clashes include Maria Sharapova  against Ashleigh Barty , Madison Keys  versus Elina Svitolina , and Naomi Osaka  against Anastasija Sevastova .
It was a mere six months ago that people were stunned by the draw collapse at Wimbledon, where Pliskova was the only top-10 seed to make it to the fourth round, and where no top-10 seeds featured in the quarter-finals.
Here in Melbourne, seven of the top-eight seeds are in the fourth round (only No. 3 seed Caroline Wozniacki didn’t make it) and the last-16 line-up is as strong as ever.
I feel like the past few years of women’s tennis have been building up to this very moment at this Australian Open. The depth in the women’s game was not created overnight, and all of these so-called ‘upsets’ that we witnessed in the past resulted in a large pool of WTA players adding experience to their resumes.
Women’s #ausopen last 16:
Halep  v Serena 
Muguruza  v Pliskova 
Osaka  v Sevastova 
Keys  v Svitolina 
Kvitova  v Anisimova
Barty  v Sharapova 
Sloane  v Pavlyuchenkova
Collins v Kerber 
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) January 19, 2019
All that perceived instability and ‘chaos’ was just the tour’s way of ushering in new talent, and introducing different players to the big stage.
Seeds having a strong tournament in Melbourne this fortnight doesn’t mean this will happen at every women’s event moving forward, but it does show that the difference between a Wimbledon like we had last year and an Australian Open like we’re having now is not that huge. The margins are slim, the competition is off the charts, and either way, we get to watch some brilliant match-ups.
“I take it match by match. For me, I don’t feel any difference by playing seeded and not seeded. If you’re not playing Serena or somebody like this, which is completely different level, you still have to work for it. There’s not going to be anything for free, not even from the unseeded players,” is how Pliskova explained it on Saturday.
“Everybody is still talking about the seeded players, if they’re in the draw or not. I think it’s not only about the seeded players. There’s a hundred different players. You still have to fight for every round.”
Keys, who had a strong win over Elise Mertens on Saturday, agreed when I asked her if she felt that this is one of the strongest Slam fourth-round line-ups in a long time.
“I would 100 per cent agree with you. There’s a lot of really good third round match-ups yesterday and today. It’s not always the case. So seeing that, even fourth round, they’re all tough. It’s definitely shaping up to be a very interesting first Grand Slam of the year,” said the American.
She doesn’t necessarily have an explanation as to why the seeds are doing well this fortnight.
“I don’t know. I think everyone is just playing really well. Even the upsets aren’t really upsets. Everyone is just playing really good tennis,” added Keys. “I think more than anything, it’s just the depth of tennis because everyone who is winning is really good. Pretty much everyone they’ve beaten is also very good. No matter which way it went, everyone was thinking it was a good match anyways.”
Irrespective of who goes through, I think we’re guaranteed a phenomenal final come Sunday the 27th.
Elina Svitolina shared a lovely moment with Zhang Shuai after she defeated the affable Chinese in three sets on Saturday. She went over to her bench to console her and make sure she was physically okay. Zhang is one of the nicest people on tour and it was no surprise that Svitolina felt the need to go check on her.
“I think tennis match is a tennis match. You finish the match. Of course everyone wants to win as bad as the other person, but it’s done. She’s a very nice person. I played with her in Tie Break Tens and we had a good time. We practice sometimes. So it’s not only about tennis here,” Svitolina said later.
“I think it’s very important to be a person and to be open. That’s what I am. It’s not like a big deal for me, but when someone is hurting, it’s normal to help. Yeah, it’s not only about tennis, I’d say.”
Later in the day, Serena Williams also had a touching moment with Ukrainian teen Dayan Yastremska who was in tears the minute she lost her third round to the American legend.
“You did amazing. You did so well. You did amazing. Don’t cry. You did really well,” Serena was heard telling Yastremska at the net. She also had some kind words for the 18-year-old in the locker room, and even told her she didn’t think she deserved that time violation she was given during the match.
“As she was walking towards the net, I could tell she was quite upset. I kind of liked that. It shows she wasn’t just there to play a good match, she was there to win. She wanted to win. That really broke my heart. I think she’s a good talent. It’s good to see that attitude,” said Serena in her press conference.
Amanda Anisimova’s nonchalant beatdown of No. 11 seed Aryna Sabalenka was nothing short of remarkable. The 17-year-old, who is the first player born in the 2000s to make a Grand Slam fourth round, outplayed Sabalenka – tipped by many as a title favourite – in every way imaginable. Even Serena said she was impressed. The future is very bright for Anisimova. Remember that name!
PRESS CONFERENCE MOMENTS
– Frances Tiafoe’s description of Anismova’s win over Sabalenka was brilliant.
“I mean, she’s got everything. She’s got everything. It’s like she’s been a veteran, she’s going out here and Sabalenka is playing great tennis, she routined her like it was nothing. It was barbecue chicken for her. It’s unbelievable,” he said of his compatriot.
“She’s quite quiet. We haven’t spoken too much. I always try to get her to laugh or something, try to get her to crack a little bit. She’s a bit shy. I mean, she goes about her business every day, extremely professional. Yeah, she’s going to have a hell of a career. You guys are going to be talking to her a lot. Sky’s the limit for her.”
– Ace machine Milos Raonic was asked if he thinks aces should be included in a players’ winner count.
“I think aces should. I think aces should, yeah. If it’s a shot that you hit that somebody is not able to put their racquet on, a winner is a winner.”
“Are you biased about that by any chance?” a reporter quipped back.
“I’m always trying to pad my stats,” responded Raonic.
– Sloane Stephens press conference took an interesting turn after her third round win over Petra Martic. Stephens’ family owns a funeral home and apparently she enjoys many aspects of the family business.
“It’s cool, a lot of dead bodies. I think that a lot of people are scared of dead bodies but you can’t be scared, they’re like the only thing that you shouldn’t be scared of. You should be scared of people walking around because you don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said.
“It’s pretty cool. It’s kind of a different outlook on like to, appreciate – like I’m not allowed to work funerals anymore because I did it one summer, I was helping my uncle, because he told me he’d pay me, and then when the families started coming in and they were crying, I started crying. So he was like, ‘You can’t work here anymore’. I was like, ‘Okay, this isn’t for me’. I think it just gives you a good perspective on life, just appreciate your loved ones while they’re around and your family and stuff. It’s cool.”
Is she used to being around dead bodies?
“I don’t think you ever get used to it, but I’m like into the bodies and cremation – I like that stuff. I’m kind of strange. I like embalming, seeing the bodies, that type of stuff. I don’t like dressing the bodies, I’ve had to do that and I don’t really like that. But making them look nice for their family to see them one last time is rewarding,” she added.
On-court interviews are often a toss-up but when Jim Courier is asking the questions, you can almost 100 per cent rely on the fact that something hilarious is going to happen. In his on-court interview with No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev, Courier asked the German about his fitness trainer Jez Green, who previously transformed Andy Murray’s physique. Courier asked Zverev how much weight he’s been able to put on since he teamed up with Green five years ago.
“You can’t really tell still, I’m disappointed in that. I’m still called a ‘skinny dude’ on tour for some reason, even though I put on about 15 kilos,” admitted Zverev.
“When he started working with Andy, you could see that he became one of the strongest duds on tour, with me, I’m still looking like… I don’t know, I’ve been called ‘asparagus’ a few times… Even though nobody can tell I still work very hard in the offseason, I still do lift a lot of weights, but as you said, my wrist, I can still do that to it (puts his thumb and index around his wrist).”
Courier suggested Zverev try wearing sleeveless shirts like Rafael Nadal, to show-off his arms.
“No, no, who’s going to be scared of that really, Zverev said while lifting his shirt sleeve to reveal his biceps. When Rafa puts that on, it’s intimidating, if I put that on, they might start laughing. I’m just going to keep away from the sleeveless,” added Zverev.
– Osaka took a tumble when she was serving for the second set against Hsieh Su-Wei on Saurday. The umpire asked her: “Naomi, are you okay?”
“No,” she replied sarcastically, sending the crowd into a fit of laughter.
She later said of that moment in her press conference: “That’s just funny to me. He was like, ‘Naomi, are you okay?’ I mean, I was, but I wanted to see his reaction if I said no.”
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 19, 2019
– Frenchman Lucas Pouille scoffed at the idea that his coach Amelie Mauresmo is faster than him. Pouille has posted a couple of videos from his training, in which he and Mauresmo were running on side-by-side treadmills, and another with them running on a track. Mauresmo looked like she was outpacing him both but he insists that is not the case.
“She’s not faster than me. No, no, no,” he said smiling. “No chance. I did it once and we were in the gym. The other time she was at the track and field, I was not running. I was just here to watch her run, so…”
Nice try, Lucas!
McEnroe asks Rafa if he wants to thank his physio Maymo.
Rafa: Why? I am always injured 😂
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) January 18, 2019
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