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Five dark horses for 2016 Australian Open ladies’ singles crown

Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | January 7, 2016

Serena Williams may have Margaret Court’s record of seven Australian Open women’s singles titles in her sights this winter, but the American all-time Grand Slam great has not had it all her own way in Melbourne in recent years.

A 2015 triumph for Williams was the first time since 2010 that she had lifted the first of the four annual Grand Slams, with surprise winners a feature Down Under.

Bearing that mind, Coral tennis writers look at five potential outside shouts that could deny Serena further Australian Open glory.

Belinda Bencic

Philippines Tennis

Teenage talent Bencic starts 2016 ranked 14th in the world, one place behind compatriot Timea Bacsinszky. At 18, there is still massive potential to be brought from her, and the future of the game in Switzerland now looks more exciting on the women’s tour than the men’s.

Although losing to 2014 Australian Open champion Li Na during her best run in Melbourne two years ago, Bencic has already caused a Grand Slam upset. She eliminated Angelique Kerber during the US Open later that season.

This could be the year that 10/1 Australian Open chance Bencic bursts on the scene, and is definitely one for the tennis of tomorrow.

Madison Keys

China Open Tennis

WTA world number 16 Keys produced her best Grand Slam performance to date at last year’s Australian Open when she reached the semis. Knocking out one Williams sister in Venus only saw Serena avenge her elder sibling’s exit by knocking out this compatriot.

Keys forced Serena into a Melbourne tiebreak in their opening set of the semi, and she also knocked Petra Kvitova out en route to that final four fixture. The 20-year-old who hails from Illinois is definitely America’s brightest prospect for when the Williams sisters pack in.

It’s her terrific run Down Under just 12 months ago that make odds of 33/1 for an Australian Open win for Keys this time around very tempting indeed.

Garbine Muguruza

Tennis - Brisbane International Tennis Tournament

Venezuelan-born Muguruza was unlucky to lose in the 2015 Wimbledon final to Williams in straight sets 6-4 6-4, as that did not tell the whole story. Representing Spain, the 22-year-old had Serena on the ropes at times with the grass court Grand Slam crown at stake.

Last year proved to be a breakthrough campaign for Muguruza, as she also reached the fourth round of the Australian Open and quarter-finals at Roland Garros. Should her development continue at that pace, then the WTA world number three could once again have a say in the destiny of this opening Grand Slam.

Available at an attractive 8/1 to win in Melbourne and go one better than her All-England Club performance, Muguruza must be considered a dark horse.

Agniezska Radwanska

Singapore WTA Tennis

Polish player and former Wimbledon finalist Radwanska made the semis Down Under in 2014, and has been a regular at the business end in Melbourne in recent years.

At 26, she is entering her prime as an athlete and must make that count to live up to her potential. Fellow Eastern European pro Victoria Azarenka won back-to-back Aussie Open titles in 2012 and 2013, so the Pole needs to follow the Belarussian’s example.

Radwanska is rated a 16/1 shot for Australian Open glory here, and at fifth in the WTA rankings has proved one of the most consistent performers on the tour.

Sloane Stephens

Cincinnati Tennis

There’s another American youngster that wants to succeed Serena as queen of the court, and Stephens like compatriot Keys above has also made an Aussie Open semi – back in 2013.

Stephens knocked Williams out during that rampant run before falling to Azarenka, and is yet to reproduce that form at a Grand Slam. The fact she’s done so before hints that it is within her to do so again.

Now 23, Stephens is a 28/1 chance to deliver at the Australian Open and punters should not be fooled by a relatively lowly WTA ranking at 29.

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