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Halep, Wozniacki lead the pack

China Daily | Updated: 2018-01-12 10:07

With Serena out, Australian Open crown is anyone's

Simona Halep, ranked No 1 in the world, is at the forefront to succeed Serena Williams as the women's champion Down Under when the Australian Open kicks off at Melbourne Park on Monday. File photo. [Photo/Agencies]

MELBOURNE-Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki spearhead the charge to succeed Serena Williams at an Australian Open left wide open by the withdrawal of the defending champ and new mom.

A pregnant Williams sealed her 23rd Grand Slam singles title and seventh Melbourne Park crown a year ago, but last week announced she wouldn't defend her title, saying she was "super close" but not quite ready to compete after giving birth in September.

With the 36-year-old having to wait to equal Margaret Court's all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles, the tournament is there for the taking by a host of others, led by world No 1 Halep, second-ranked Wozniacki and fourth-ranked Elina Svitolina.

Last year there were two first-time Grand Slam winners while Serena was on maternity leave-Jelena Ostapenko at the French Open and Sloane Stephens at the US Open.

But their chances in Melbourne look slim. Stephens hasn't won a match on tour since her Flushing Meadows triumph, and Ostapenko was far from her attacking best in first-round losses in Shenzhen and Sydney in the past week.

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