When a Grand Slam draw comes out, the tendency is for one's attention to gravitate toward the big stars, or the matchups that look to be highly competitive. But this year's Australian Open women's bracket has some first-round matches, particularly involving Americans, for which it's hard to know what to even expect.
There have been only two weeks of tournaments so far in 2020, and for high-potential players who either are slumping or on the comeback trail, there simply aren't enough data points to predict how they might perform in one of the tournaments that will define the year.
Here are some question-mark players to watch out for in the early rounds, ones who could make a disappointing early exit, or just as likely go on a wonderful run:
The two-time Grand Slam champion is sitting outside of the Top 50 going into the first Slam of the year, and opens against a returning No. 15-seeded Marketa Vondrousova. Struggles with form and injuries has seen Kuznetsova dip outside of the Top 100. Still, the 34-year-old has put together some fine performances including the final of Cincinnati last summer, and winning Washington in 2018 with a ranking of No. 128.
Her first task is against another question mark player, Vondrousova. The 2019 French Open semifinalist underwent left (dominant) wrist surgery last fall. In her first event back since the Us Open, she reached the quarterfinals of Adelaide.
After reaching the No. 35 ranking at age 18, Bellis had to sit out for almost all of the last two seasons with a wrist injury, delaying what seemed to be the launch of a spectacular career. Her comeback at this point looks promising, though: She won her first three matches back, at the Houston Oracle Challenger, and she's 1-2 on the WTA Tour in 2020.
In her return to the Grand Slam level, Bellis plays No. 87 Tatjana Maria.
Another player who appeared to be on her way to the top in 2017, Vandeweghe had her last two seasons marred by an ankle injury. On the comeback trail this fall, she scored 13 match wins at the ITF and 125K levels. However, her 2020 hasn't been as good; she lost in qualifying in both Auckland and Adelaide, with one win and two losses.
On Tuesday, Vandeweghe opens against the tricky Laura Siegemund, with No. 2 Karolina Pliskova potentially looming in the second round.
Tennis is often celebrated for the fend-for-yourself elements of life on tour. But it can be cruel to not have a team to carry you when you're down. This fortnight, these players will have to keep clawing their way back up.