BANGALORE - Former world number one Martina Navratilova believes Petra Kvitova's attacking style of play makes her one of the top contenders for next week's Australian Open, while Venus Williams' experience gives her the edge over the rest of the women's field.
Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion, missed the entire Australian season last year after she received a serious injury to her playing hand while fighting off a knife-wielding intruder in her home in Dec. 2016.
Despite winning a grasscourt title in Birmingham, it was not until the U.S. Open where Kvitova looked close to reaching her top form, reaching the quarter-finals, and then going a step further with a semi-final appearance in Beijing in October.
"I've always had a soft spot for Petra Kvitova - after all, she's a Czech lefty like me - and my admiration and affection for her has only grown due to the way she has fought back to form over the last 12 months," Navratilova wrote in her column for the WTA's official website.
"In the absence of Serena Williams, I believe it's entirely possible Kvitova could end up landing the title at the Australian Open... and what a story that would be.
"Kvitova's attacking tennis brought her two Wimbledon titles, and the Plexicushion courts in Melbourne are lightning quick - like grass, only faster - so the surface should be perfect for her."
Serena Williams decided not to defend her title in Melbourne this year after saying she was not yet ready to compete at the top level after giving birth to her first child in September.
It leaves her sister Venus with another opportunity to win her first Australian Open title, having finished runner-up last year.
"While this tournament is wide open, and there are a number of players who could win the title, I would give Williams a slight edge over the others," Navratilova added.
"Last year, Williams came so close in Melbourne... and now she goes into the tournament knowing she won't have to deal with Serena, and that should put some pep in her step."
The first grand slam of the year begins at Melbourne Park on Monday.