Ash Barty will carry the expectations of a nation when the Australian Open gets underway in a few days. But the odds suggest the 2020 AO could be 5 times a charm in Major finals for Serena Williams.
As the No. 1 seed at a Major in her home country, Ash Barty is likely to feel more pressure to make a strong run at the 2020 Australian Open than any other player on the women’s side. And the odds aren’t any help for Barty. Despite having the top seed, she is only fourth in a ratings-based projection for the likely winner of the draw that gives her just a 1 in 10 chance at the title.
The top position instead goes to Serena Williams, whose 1 in 5 chance doesn’t make a title certain for her by any means but it does put her well ahead of the rest of the field this year. These projections, however, don’t consider any ‘finals effect’ that might be at play for Serena, who has lost all 4 major finals she has reached since her 2017 Australian Open title and since having her first child.
Still, Serena has only seemed to improve with each Major event, having clinical runs up to the finals at Wimbledon and the US Open. She is also coming off a title win in Auckland, her warm-up event, which should be another confidence boost ahead of next week. This could make a possible meeting between Barty and Serena in the semi-finals the toughest path for Ash to the title.
Serena’s 8th seed underestimates her strength going into the event. It also sets up a quarterfinal clash with Naomi Osaka, who she last faced in a Major at the controversial 2018 US Open final.
Karolina Pliskova, who has seen her own controversies as well, may be the most under-the-radar pick in the top 4. But being on the opposite half of the draw from the other picks in the top 4 gives her the luckiest spot in the draw among them.
When it comes to the women’s tour, we have gotten used to saying how tight the competition is and how much it is ‘anyone’s event’ at any given time. Although the chances at the title for the women are more uniform overall in contrast with the men, it is interesting to see how much the ratings among these women have diverged compared to where they were last year.
For the players who find themselves in the strongest positions going into the AO, it has been a dynamic past year across the board. Serena stands out as the overall most improved, steadily adding 200 points to her rating in 2019.
For the others, the more typical trend has been a flat period in the first quarter of the year followed by a surge from August onwards. Barty, Halep and Svitolina are the only players in this group who will be heading into the first major of the year on a clear downturn.
Serena is the statistical favorite and in the strongest form she has been since returning to the tour after childbirth. If the focus that will be on Ash Barty will help her to get over whatever finals hump she has had during her return, we might just see Serena tie Margaret Court’s slam record on Margaret’s home turf.