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In Serena’s absence, who will rise?

Melbourne:With no Serena Williams in the draw at the Australian Open, there’s certainly an opportunity for another women’s player to go on a surprising run and emerge as a first-time Grand Slam champion, as Sloane Stephens and Jelena Ostapenko did last year. Just don’t describe the first Grand Slam of the year as “more open” than usual.

“Whenever I get asked that question, it always comes across in really kind of an almost negative way instead of acknowledging how many great players we have,” Johanna Konta said. “The depth in women’s tennis in the last few years has gotten so strong.”

Indeed, any number of women could be holding the trophy in two weeks. The No. 1-ranking changed seven times in 2017, with five different women assuming top spot. Simona Halep is looking to finally break through and win her first Major after twice finishing runner-up. Venus Williams is a threat again at 37, and Angelique Kerber is playing well after a subpar year. Caroline Wozniacki had a career-reviving season and could return to the No. 1 ranking for the first time in six years with a strong showing in Melbourne.