Here are five of the women to keep an eye on throughout the qualifying week:
Bethanie Mattek-Sands (USA)
[Ranking No.167, Unseeded]
It’s been a milestone week for Mattek-Sands – on Monday she became the 34th player in the history of the WTA Rankings to become No.1 in the world in doubles, a discipline she has been absolutely shining in the last few years, picking up her first three Grand Slam doubles titles at the 2015 Australian Open, 2015 French Open and 2016 US Open (all with Lucie Safarova). Her run to the Brisbane title with Sania Mirza last week propelled her to the top.
But she’s always a huge threat on the singles court, too, reaching the second week twice at majors, at Wimbledon in 2008 and the French Open in 2013. Can the flashy American battle through the qualifying rounds and into the second week in Australia for the first time?
Daniela Hantuchova (SVK)
[Ranking No.227, Unseeded]
The 2016 season wasn’t Hantuchova’s best – she started the year at No.83 and ended it down at No.228. But the Australian Open is where she posted the best Grand Slam result of her career in 2008, reaching the semifinals, and barely losing to Ana Ivanovic in three sets. And anyone who’s been to No.5 in the world before certainly has the capability of doing even more damage on any given day. She’s got the No.13 seed, Natalia Vikhlyantseva, first up…
Taylor Townsend (USA)
[Ranking No.131, Seed No.14]
At age 20, Townsend is still one of the most promising young up-and-comers in the women’s game, and Melbourne Park is where she truly made a name for herself, winning her first junior Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in 2012 (she would make one more junior Grand Slam final at Wimbledon in 2013, falling to Belinda Bencic). So far on the main tour, she’s only won rounds at the French Open – can she qualify and then change that this fortnight?
Jennifer Brady (USA)
[Ranking No.115, Seed No.4]
Not yet a household name, Brady is another one to watch among the young Americans. The 21-year-old Pennsylvania native, who currently trains with the USTA in Florida, surged up the rankings last year – she finished 2015 at No.229 and 2016 at No.111 – and it took former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone to stop her in the qualies of Brisbane last week. Now there’s bigger stakes – three wins and Brady’s in her first Grand Slam main draw.
Laura Robson (GBR)
[Ranking No.222, Unseeded]
Like Townsend, Robson was a junior Grand Slam champion – she won Wimbledon as a 14-year-old in 2008 – and she made a lightning-fast transition to the main tour, reaching the second week of the US Open in 2012 and Wimbledon in 2013, and going as high as No.27 in the world. Multiple left wrist surgeries took all of that momentum away in 2014 and 2015 but she showed signs of her former brilliance in 2016, cutting her ranking from No.556 to No.219. Can the Melbourne-born Brit conjure up more of that brilliance and make the main draw?