Australian Open: Who will be the breakout star of 2016 in the women's draw?


The Australian Open is renowned for its fairytale runs and shock results, and this year's edition is likely to be no different.

As fans flock to Melbourne Park to see defending champion Serena Williams and Russian star Maria Sharapova, unheralded players are looking to follow in the footsteps of Madison Keys and Co. at the season's first grand slam.

American 20-year-old Keys upstaged seeds Petra Kvitova and Venus Williams en route to last year's semi-final, which she lost to eventual winner Serena.

Kristina Mladenovic, 22, made the last eight at the US Open last year after Belinda Bencic - also at Flushing Meadows - and Eugenie Bouchard (Australian Open semi-finals) emerged on the WTA Tour in 2014.

We take a look at five players capable of breaking through over the next two weeks in Melbourne:

Based on her WTA ranking of 11 and ninth seeding for the Open, Pliskova is the most likely to make a splash outside of the top seeds. Pliskova enjoyed a successful 2015 season, finishing as runner-up in Sydney, Dubai, Birmingham, Stanford and Zhuhai, having triumphed at the Prague Open in her native Czech Republic. The 23-year-old's best performances at grand slams to date are third-round appearances at the Australian (2015) and US (2014) Opens.

Garcia, 22, has only lost once in 2016. The world number 34 won all three of her matches at the Hopman Cup in Perth before accounting for fellow Frenchwoman Mladenovic and losing to top seed Halep in Sydney. A quarter-finalist in Stuttgart and New Haven last year, Garcia has never progressed beyond the third round of a grand slam.

Gavrilova rose to her highest career ranking, 35th, in 2015 after claiming the scalps of Maria Sharapova (Miami Open), Ana Ivanovic (Internazionali d'Italia) and Lucie Safarova (Canadian Open). The 21-year-old Russia-born Australian also made the semi-finals of the Internazionali d'Italia, where she lost out to eventual winner Sharapova. She must better her second-round appearances in Melbourne and Paris.

Puig was visibly emotional after she ousted local favourite Samantha Stosur in the quarter-finals of the Sydney International. It was just reward for the 22-year-old Puerto Rican, who played 47 matches last year but only 11 WTA Premier contests. The 94th-ranked right-hander - looking to add to her maiden WTA Tour title in 2014 - has already beaten the 2011 US Open champion and Anna Karolina Schmiedlova this year as a trip to Melbourne Park looms.

Wildcard Crawford heads to the Australian Open for the first time since she played as a junior in 2012. The rising 20-year-old American was a relative unknown in 2015, having not made a WTA Premier appearance. But the tennis community has been forced to stand up and take notice of the world number 107, who has overcome three meniscus tears, after she got the better of Bencic and Andrea Petkovic en route to the Brisbane International semi-finals.