One in eight women in the Australian Open draw have already won a grand slam title.

One in eight. It is staggering that of the 128 players who set out in the hope of singles glory at Melbourne Park, there are 16 major champions among them, and perhaps never has it been so difficult to predict who will carry off the title.

Compare it to the men's draw, where there are just five grand slam singles winners, and where you would struggle to make a compelling case for any more than three of those this year, with apologies to Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic.

As long-running dynasties near their end on the men's and women's tours, the WTA is a lengthy step ahead of the ATP with a cast of appealing characters already assuming leading roles.

The leader of the pack

Three-time grand slam champion Naomi Osaka is at the forefront of a school of rising stars, but she has impressive rivals for company.

The last four years have seen the 15 women's majors won by 12 different players, whereas in the men's game, Rafael Nadal (6), Novak Djokovic (5), Roger Federer (3) and Dominic Thiem (1) have creamed off all the top prizes in the same period.

Often criticised in the past for a perceived lack of depth, in the years when Serena Williams won seemingly at will, the women's tour has exploded with a rush of bright and young talent.

Osaka is a revelation and a leader, on and off the court. Twice a US Open champion now, and a winner in Australia two years ago, the 23-year-old Japanese star took a powerful stance for racial equality at Flushing Meadows back in September, at the height of Black Lives Matter protests. She wants to achieve even more off the court than on it, where she looks assured of one day leaving an impressive legacy.

If there is any area where Osaka's game falls down it is consistency. She has surprisingly not passed the fourth round in 14 of her 17 grand slam appearances, but on every occasion she has gone beyond that stage it has been en route to lifting a trophy.

In hot pursuit

Last year's three slam champions were, at the times of their triumphs, just 21 (Sofia Kenin - Australian Open), 19 (Iga Swiatek - French Open) and 22 (Osaka - US Open).

The women's game has not seen anything comparable in terms of youthful winners of its blue riband tournaments since 2004, when the 21-year-old Justine Henin won in Australia, Anastasia Myskina landed the Roland Garros title at 22, Maria Sharapova was a 17-year-old bolter to Wimbledon glory and 19-year-old Svetlana Kuznetsova scored a stunning Flushing Meadows victory.

Last year does not touch the 1997 season, when a 16-year-old Martina Hingis won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open, denied a grand slam clean sweep by 19-year-old Iva Majoli's shock French Open final win over the Swiss.

But women's tennis is still seeing a remarkable shift to relative youth.

The 2019 season saw a then 19-year-old Bianca Andreescu scoop a stunning US Open win, while Ash Barty took the French Open.

Andreescu has been sidelined with a knee injury since the 2019 WTA Finals, but she is back for Australia, where Queenslander Barty, now 24, is the home hero.

Brace for the prospect of Andreescu and Barty joining Kenin, Swiatek and Osaka in a group of five who can take the women's game boldly into the post-Williams era.

But the Williams era isn't over

This is true, and again Serena will make another attempt to land that elusive 24th grand slam, the one that would move her level with Margaret Court on the all-time list.

She remains, at the age of 39, a magnificent competitor and a beguiling player, as does sister Venus, who turns 41 in June.

Serena has lost her last four grand slam finals, however, and the most recent run to a title match came almost 18 months ago in New York, where Andreescu had her number.

As the new gang of five threaten to pull away from the old establishment, perhaps Williams is now in the next group, along with the likes of Simona Halep, Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova: still perfectly capable of winning another slam or even multiple slams, but it feels important to strike now.

Serena has not won any of her last 10 slams, making it the longest span in her professional career without winning a major.

Barty party, or Sofia the second?

Osaka begins the Australian Open as favourite with bookmakers, but world number one Barty will have home support and could make that count. How she performs will be keenly watched, given she chose not to travel once the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, sitting out 11 months.

Should Barty get on a roll, hopes will be high she can become the first Australian woman to take the title since Chris O'Neil in 1978. Last year, Barty fell in the semi-finals to Kenin, and she will be eager to land a second slam title.

Kenin, whose intense concentration and steely resolve helped her pull off last year's shock Melbourne win, and follow up with a run to the French Open final, can be a match for anyone. She will be aiming to become the first woman to win back-to-back Australian Open titles since Azarenka in 2012 and 2013.

Success on this level has come perhaps ahead of schedule for the American, and the same can be said for Swiatek, whose demolition of the field at Roland Garros in October made a mockery of her being ranked number 53 in the world.

The teenage Polish player became her country's first grand slam singles champion, and with that status comes the expectation she will follow it up. How that turns out for her will be one of the most intriguing of sub-plots in the new season.

Changing priorities

Halep said in a recent WTA interview that winning an Olympic medal was her "main goal" for 2021, although Osaka will also have the Tokyo Games firmly circled in her diary.

For the likes of those other players among the 16 slam winners in the Melbourne draw, there will be differing targets this year, too.

Angelique Kerber, Sloane Stephens, Jelena Ostapenko and particularly Garbine Muguruza may yet come good again on the big stage at some point this season.

For Venus Williams, Kuznetsova and Samantha Stosur, it may be a case of one final hurrah.

As the likes of Coco Gauff emerge as potential future big-stage winners, and fledgling ambassadors, the women's game looks in safe hands.

Serena Williams roared into the quarter-finals of the Yarra Valley Classic with a 6-1 6-4 victory over Tsvetana Pironkova on a star-studded day of action in Australia.

The 23-time grand slam champion was in fine form at Melbourne Park, where the biggest names in women's tennis were competing across multiple tournaments, as she sealed a straight-sets triumph to continue her preparations for a shot at an eighth Australian Open title.

In doing so the 39-year-old extended her head-to-head record over the Bulgarian to 6-0 and was delighted to get the job done.

"It's definitely nice to get another win," the American said during her on-court interview.

"She's clearly a great player, so it wasn't easy, but it was good to come through."

Speaking at her media conference, Williams added: "Last time it was an incredible three-set match, so today I was like, 'All right, let's really try and focus and learn to do better than last time.'"

World number one Ash Barty had a less straightforward path to the last eight, requiring three sets to see off Marie Bouzkova.

The home hope ultimately prevailed 6-0 4-6 6-3, with second seed and reigning Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin also taken the distance in a 5-7 7-5 6-2 win over Jessica Pegula, as Nadia Podoroska dug deep to down Petra Kvitova 5-7 6-1 7-6 (9-7).

With Barty now set to face Shelby Rogers, Danielle Collins awaits Williams having impressively defeated third seed Karolina Pliskova 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (7-3), while Garbine Muguruza overcame Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1 6-2 to set up a meeting with Kenin.

In the Gippsland Trophy, the top three seeds all dodged upsets, with two-time grand slam winner Simona Halep, 2019 Australian Open victor Naomi Osaka and 2018 Tour Finals champion Elina Svitolina safely navigating through the last 16.

Fifth-seeded Briton Johanna Konta failed to convert two match points as she succumbed to a 4-6 7-6 (12-10) 7-6 (7-4) defeat to Irina-Camelia Begu.

Meanwhile, at the Grampians Trophy there were wins for Anett Kontaveit, Jennifer Brady and Angelique Kerber.

World number one Ash Barty won her first WTA Tour match in almost a year at the Yarra Valley Classic, while Naomi Osaka got her Gippsland Trophy campaign going with a victory.

Barty sat out the vast majority of the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic but marked her comeback with a 6-3 6-3 success over Ana Bogdan at Melbourne Park.

The Australian will face Marie Bouzkova next after the Czech defeated Aliona Bolsova on Tuesday.

Garbine Muguruza raced past Alison Van Uytvanck 6-2 6-0 and she was joined in the third round by Petra Kvitova, who battled to beat Venus Williams 7-6 (8-6) 7-5.

Reigning Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, who was 7-5 up when Camila Giorgi retired from their match, is also through.

In her first match since winning the US Open in September, Osaka cruised to a 6-2 6-2 success against Alize Cornet and will meet Katie Boulter after the Briton came from a set down to beat Coco Gauff 3-6 7-5 6-2.

Iga Swiatek was also making her first appearance since winning a major title – the French Open last October – and after a slow start won 10 of the final 11 games to beat Kaja Juvan 2-6 6-2 6-1.

Aryna Sabalenka ended 2020 with back-to-back titles in Ostrava and Linz, before kicking off the new year with another trophy in Abu Dhabi. However, her run of 15 straight victories ended with a 1-6 6-2 1-6 loss to Kaia Kanepi.

Bianca Andreescu was due to gear up for the Australian Open by contesting the Grampians Trophy this week but withdrew from the competition to focus on training instead.

Naomi Osaka would be prepared to spend another two weeks in quarantine to be able to play at a "very special" Olympics in Tokyo.

Postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Games are scheduled to begin on July 23 this year.

This year's Australian Open will begin on February 8 after players quarantined ahead of the first grand slam of the year.

Osaka said she would be prepared to do it all again if it meant she got the chance to play at the Olympics.

"Honestly, my concern isn't the athletes. The way that I feel is I will stay in my room for two weeks to play the Olympics. I missed out on the last one," the Japanese star told a news conference on Sunday.

"Playing in Tokyo would be very special to me. My concern would be the general safety of everyone else because you're opening the country.  Everyone is flying in from different places. I would just want the public to feel safe.

"I feel like the athletes definitely would want to play, but I would want the public to feel safe."

Doubts have also been cast over the Olympics going ahead this year due to COVID-19.

Osaka, a three-time major champion, said while people she had spoken to were excited, some were worried.

"For me the people that I've spoken to, they're really excited about it, but they're concerned because, I don't know, there's just like so many different people entering. I don't know," she said.

"For the people I've talked to, they said as long as everyone is safe, as long as Japan is getting better and not worse, then it should be okay.

"But for me, hmm, don't quote me on that."

Ahead of the Australian Open, Osaka is playing the Gippsland Trophy, where she will face either Alize Cornet or Ajla Tomljanovic in the second round.

Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal agreed it was great to be playing in front of busy grandstands again as tennis stars emerged from lockdown in Australia.

The women's and men's tennis tours have been contested largely behind closed doors over the past year, and a number of tournaments, most notably Wimbledon, have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The Australia public has given a cautious welcome to the arrival of the world's leading players, who have been quarantining in hotel rooms for much of the past fortnight, only allowed to briefly leave in order to train.

Ahead of the Australian Open, which begins on February 8 in Melbourne, Williams and Nadal are among a star-studded set of players who travelled to Adelaide to feature in the 'A Day at the Drive' exhibition event.

They both scored victories on Friday, with Williams defeating US Open champion Naomi Osaka 6-2 2-6 10-7 and Nadal snatching a 7-5 6-4 win over Dominic Thiem.

The delight in both at seeing crowds at a tournament was plain, with Williams saying in an on-court interview: "Thanks everyone for having us. We haven't played in front of a crowd in over a year. It's been a really long time."

In fact, it has not quite been a full year since the tours locked down initially, as it was early March when most tournaments began to be called off, with crowds frozen out.

Williams said the reception made the difficult past fortnight, being hidden away from the world, worth the strain for the players.

"This is really cool and then for having us and trusting us with your laws was great," said the 23-time grand slam winner. "We were so excited to be here and it's worth it."

Nadal said he was "super happy" to still be playing at the highest level and back in front of Australian crowds.

The pandemic has been carefully managed to the point where very few have the virus and it is considered safe to allow crowds into sporting events in the country.

Nadal said: "Hopefully this situation will go away quick and we will be able to enjoy fans on court [around the world].

"We're super excited to have fans at the Australian Open and today."

That optimism and excitement was shared by men's world number one Novak Djokovic, who played just one set against Jannik Sinner due to a problem with blisters on his right hand.

Eight-time Australian Open champion Djokovic told fans: "Thank you so much for coming out and making our day and making our year.

"We didn't play in front of this much crowd for 12 months. This is definitely something very special.

"It wasn't easy, obviously, with 14 days being constrained in the room and a few hours to train, but at the end of the day it was worth it because you guys made it very special today for us."

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