AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2016: Capsules on top women’s players

Defending champions Serena Williams of the US and Serbia's Novak Djokovic pose for a photo with their trophies as they arrive for the official draw at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Jan. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
AP

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Women to watch at the Australian Open, which begins Monday at Melbourne Park:

SERENA WILLIAMS

Seeded: 1

Age: 34

Country: United States

2015 Match Record: 53-3

2015 Singles Titles: 5

Career Singles Titles: 69

Major Titles: 21 – Australian Open ('03, `05, `07, `09, `10, `15), French Open ('02, `13, `15) , Wimbledon ('02, `03, `09, `10, `12, `15), U.S. Open ('99, `02, `08, `12, `13, `14)

Last 5 Australian Opens: '15-Won title, `14-Lost in 4th Round, `13-Lost in Quarterfinal, `12-4th, `11-Did Not Play.

Topspin: Where to begin? Williams, named the AP's female athlete of 2015, won the Australian Open on hard courts in January, the French Open on clay in June, and Wimbledon on grass in July, before losing in the U.S. Open semifinals in September, falling just two matches short of the calendar Grand Slam. … The semifinal loss to Italy's Roberta Vinci was one of the biggest upsets in the history of women's tennis. … In all, Williams won 26 major matches in a row at the majors and was ranked No. 1 every week. … Only two women have won more Grand Slam titles. … Had to pull out of the Hopman Cup in Perth due to left knee soreness to start the season, but has practiced in Melbourne and organizers say she is fit.

SIMONA HALEP

Seeded: 2

Age: 24

Country: Romania

2015 Match Record: 49-17

2015 Singles Titles: 3

Career Singles Titles: 11.

Major titles: None. Best: – French Open finalist ('14).

Last 5 Australian Opens: '15-QF, `14-QF, `13-1st, `12-1st, 11-3rd

Topspin: Coached by former Australian player Darren Cahill, Halep had her best season last year, winning WTA titles at Shenzhen, Dubai and Indian Wells. … Was runner-up at Toronto, retiring with heat illness, and lost to Serena Williams in the Cincinnati final. … Reached four semifinals, including the U.S. Open. … Started off 2016 as top seed at the Brisbane International but had to withdraw before her first match with a left Achilles tendon injury. Recovered to play in the Sydney International and appeared to be injury-free leading into the semifinals.

—-

GARBINE MUGURUZA

Seeded: 3

Age: 22

Country: Spain

2015 Match Record: 41-19

2015 Singles Titles: 1

Career Singles Titles: 2

Major Titles: None – Best: Wimbledon finalist ('15)

Last 5 Australian Opens: `15-4th, '14-4th, '13-2nd, '12-DNP, '11-DNP.

Topspin: The Venezuelan-born Muguruza, who counts hard courts as her favorite surface, won her second career WTA title last year at the China Open. … Had her best Grand Slam performance at last year's Wimbledon, defeating 10th-seeded Angelique Kerber in the third round, fifth-seeded Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round, No. 15 Timea Bacsinszky in the quarterfinals and 13th-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska in the semifinals before losing to Serena Williams in straight sets in the final. That moved her into the top 10 for the first time (at No. 9). … Moved to No. 3 by year-end after advancing to the semifinals of the WTA Finals at Singapore. … Withdrew from the Brisbane International this year with an injured left foot.

—-

MARIA SHARAPOVA

Seeded: 5

Age: 28

Country: Russia

2015 Match Record: 39-9

2015 Singles Titles: 2

Career Singles Titles: 35

Major Titles: 5 – Australian Open ('08), French Open ('12, `14), Wimbledon ('04), U.S. Open ('06)

Last 5 Australian Opens: '15-F, `14-4th, `13-SF, `12-F, 11-4th

Topspin: Enters the Australian Open with injury concerns after withdrawing as defending champion from the season-opening Brisbane International because of soreness in her left forearm, but says she is 100 percent recovered from injuries which forced her to miss three months late last year, including the U.S. Open. … Lost final here in straight sets to Serena Williams, and the pair could meet in the quarterfinals this year. … Hasn't beaten Serena since 2004, losing in their last 17 meetings. … Is looking forward to competing at the Rio Olympics. She won silver for Russia at the London Olympics in 2012, and despite losing badly to Serena Williams in the final, 6-0, 6-1, she has fond memories. ''I had an incredible experience in London,'' Sharapova says. ''It was very special to be an Olympian for the very first time.''

VENUS WILLIAMS

Seeded: 8

Age: 35.

Country: United States

2015 Match Record: 41-13.

2015 Singles Titles: 3

Career Singles Titles: 48

Major Titles: 7 – Wimbledon ('00, `01, `05, `07, `08), U.S. Open ('00, `01).

Last 5 Australian Opens: '15-QF, '14-1st, '13-3rd, 12-DNP, 12-3rd.

Topspin: Voted the WTA's comeback player of the year in 2015 after moving back into the top 10 for the first time since 2011, when she was diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome, an auto-immune illness. … Was impressive on hardcourts in 2015, with a 34-9 win loss record that was only bettered by three other players. … Best result at the Australian Open was reaching the 2003 final, when she lost to sister Serena, one of eight times the siblings have met in a major final. … Her 2016 season got off to a poor start when she lost in the first round while defending the ASB Classic title she won last year in Auckland, New Zealand.

VICTORIA AZARENKA

Seeded: 14

Age: 26

Country: Belarus

2015 Match Record: 31-13

2015 Singles Titles: 0

Career Singles Titles: 18

Major Titles: 2 – Australian Open ('12, `13)

Last 5 Australian Opens: 15-4th, 14-QF, `13-W, `12-W, `11-4th, `10-QF

Topspin: A two-time champion at Melbourne Park, failed to win a tournament last year despite moving up in the rankings by 10 places, finishing the year at No.22 after an injury-marred season. … Finished runner-up at Doha last year, losing to Lucie Safarova in the final, and was a quarterfinal loser three times to a trio of star players – Sharapova at Rome, Serena Williams at Wimbledon and Halep at the U.S. Open. … Always one to watch as she loves Melbourne and its restaurants and night life, none of which appears to affect her play here as in the past five years, she's always advanced past the first week here. … Started 2016 in fine form, winning the Brisbane International for her first tournament victory in 28 months. ''I think she's a player we should be talking about and focusing on right now because she's the best player out there as of now with all the injuries,'' said Chris Evert, who will be commentating in Melbourne for ESPN.

Follow Dennis Passa on Twitter: http://twitter.com/DennisPassa