2016 Australian Open Women’s Preview
Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
The first grand slam of the 2016 is upon us and it promises to be a cracker. The tour is wide open with potential winners, so let’s get down to it.
The Australian Open has been staged in seven cities throughout Australia and New Zealand since its launch in 1905. It moved to its present home named Melbourne Park in 1988, with the tournament also switching from a grass to hardcourt surface.
Defending champion Serena Williams has the Open Era record with six singles titles. Just two behind her with four victories are Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong, Steffi Graf and Monica Seles.
The Australian Open
Tier: Grand Slam
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Prize money: $ 40,000,000
Date: January 18th- January 31st
Top eight seeds (Ranking)
1. Serena Williams (1)
2. Simona Halep (2)
3. Garbine Muguruza (3)
4. Agnieszka Radwanska (4)
5. Maria Sharapova (5)
6. Petra Kvitova (6)
7. Angelique Kerber (7)
8. Venus Williams (10)
Lucie Safarova (injury) and Flavia Pennetta (retired) are absent from the tournament.
First round matches to watch
(1) Serena Williams vs Camila Giorgi
The world number one begins her title defence with a tough round one clash with the unpredictable yet dangerous Giorgi.
There are few players that can match Serena’s power on the court, Giorgi is one of them. The Italian is a big hitter and on her day can blast almost anyone off the court. The top seed is still a massive favourite for this match and the tournament as a whole, but if Giorgi turns up she could catch Serena off guard.
The American has not had much in terms of warm up for the first grand slam of the year, and one thing is for sure- she will not get much rhythm from the Italian.
(28) Kristina Mladenovic vs Dominika Cibulkova
There are not many potential upset matches in the opening round when it concerns the top seeds, but there is a nice match to look out for involving Mladenovic and Cibulkova.
The talented Frenchwoman is 0/2 in 2016 after back to back defeats to compatriots- she will be happy to see a Slovakian on the other side of the net. Cibulkova on the other hand has started the season well and is a former finalist at the Australian Open.
The Slovakian leads 5-0 in the head to head which is rather surprising. This one should be a lot closer than their previous meetings and It is possible that the seeded player could make an early exit.
(14) Belinda Bencic vs Alison Riske
60 places separate these two so if the American was to win this match it would be considered quite an upset.
In the WTA, anything is possible. Bencic is a much improved player since their last and only meeting in 2014 where Riske won in straight sets. However the Swiss lady has not looked at he best in the warm up events and there is a lingering chance of an upset.
That would require the world number 74 to bring her best tennis to the court, but big matches can often bring out the best in a lot of players. Bencic is the likely winner but it could be a close match.#
(17) Sara Errani vs Margarita Gasparyan
Errani is a very consistent retriever and a former grand slam finalist, however her gamestyle lets you play. It will be a good chance for the young Gasparyan to show her talents even if she does end up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
The Italian is not as versed on hard courts as she is on clay, but she is not a player you can ever sleep on. The Russian will have to be game if she is to win the match, but it is winnable for her and a chance to claim a good scalp and make a good run.
The world number one has been dealt with a fairly tough draw in her path towards the title. Giorgi is not the type of player you want to play first that’s for sure. From there it get’s a little more predictable with Anna Schmiedlova the projected round three opponent for the world number one. Schmiedlova is a solid player, particularly on clay, but unless Serena has a nightmare then the Slovakian will likely be brushed aside. The fourth round may see her face good friend Caroline Wozniacki. The draw to the round of 16 has been kind to the Dane and she will be majorly disappointed if she does not make it this far. Given the 10-1 head to head it is difficult to see Serena not making it through this match and through this section. Unless he has a real off day somewhere there is not a player after round one that could realistically match the power of the top seed.
It is not a familiar sight seeing Sharapova next to the number five, but Radwanska’s good form has knocked the Russian from the fourth seeding. Her reward?- Drawn in a quarter with the woman she has not beaten in over a decade. Her path to the potential clash with Serena is not an easy one either. Nao Hibino should be a comfortable opener, as should round two, but the third round potentially against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is a tricky one. It does not get any easier with the possibility of Bencic waiting in round four which could be a classic match. But Riske followed by possibly Heather Watson then Svetlana Kuznetsova is not exactly a good draw either. Bencic vs Sharapova is the safe bet and the Russian making it to the quarter finals is safer still, but there are banana skins.
If Radwanska had not made the Shenzhen open final then she would have been drawn in Serena’s quarter. With her victory in the Chinese event, the Pole has taken the fourth seed and has been drawn with a potentially injured Kvitova instead. Radwanska will play America’s Christina McHale in the opening round- not the easiest of draws but one she will be expected to win. That could lead to quite the round two clash against a rejuvenated Eugenie Bouchard who is looking more like her 2014 self in the early parts of the season. Sam Stosur is projected in round three but the Aussie has had issues playing in front of a home crowd. The round of 16 will likely feature either Roberta Vinci or an in form Sloane Stephens. Either one is a huge test for whoever they play and could upset the number four seed. Vinci of course is now famous for denying Serena a calendar year grand slam at the US Open.
Kvitova was forced to withdraw early in Shenzhen, then did not compete at all in her Sydney title defence. It leaves you wondering whether she is 100% ready for the Australian Open. The Czech is unpreditable at the best of times and if bad Petra shows up then she could be heading for an early exit. Round two is where the first test will likely come against Australia’s Daria Gavrilova. She is a rising talent in the WTA and will be pumped up to play in front of the home crowd. She is coming off victory with Nick Kyrgios at the Homan Cup. Round three will not get any easier with either Mladenovic or Cibulkova likely opponents. Carla Suarez Navarro might be the biggest beneficiary if Kvitova is not up to standard. The Spaniard has a fairly comfortable ride to the third round where she will face Andrea Petkovic. She could be the one that emerges to face Radwanska in the quarter finals.
After an impressive 2015 there is a lot of hype and expectation surrounding Muguruza, and this is a tournament you would expect her to do well in. She has had good results in Melbourne before and the courts seem to fit her game nicely. The opening two rounds seem fairly simple for the third seed, but it is in the round of 32 where things could get messy. Caroline Garcia is the projected seed, the talent Frenchwoman is unpredictable but she has a big game and matches up well with the Spaniard. But if she manages to get past the 32nd seed then she will meet a resurgent Victoria Azarenka who is fresh off winning the Brisbane title. This colossal round four match will could decide the finalist so keep an eye out for this one. The former two time champion must first make her way through a difficult third round against Elina Svitolina, but the Belarusian should match up well with the 20 year old.
Kerber could not translate her Premier level success into the grand slams in 2015, but her draw to the quarter finals here looks fairly promising. Barring a huge upset, Irina Begu will be her toughest challenge en route to round four where she projected to face Timea Bacsinszky. The Swiss however has not made the best of starts to the year and could be upset potential in the early rounds. Jelena Jankovic therefore might be the favourite to meet the German in the round of 16. With Muguruza or Azarenka likely for the quarter finals however, it is hard seeing either player progressing any further than the last eight.
Halep is still searching for her first grand slam title and she will feel that 2016 might just be her year. Her grand slam season opens pretty nicely with a qualifier then either Alize Cornet or Bojana Jovanovski. The third round against Lesia Tsurenko could be tricky but it is a match that Halep should win fairly comfortably. The fourth round is where things get interesting with Madison Keys or Ana Ivanovic likely to await the Romanian. Keys has a potential banana skin round two against Tsvetana Pironkova or Yaroslava Shvedova- both can be dangerous on their day. Ivanovic’s path to the third round is a little easier but nothing she should take for granted. Jarmila Wolfe could pose a test in front of her home crowd in round two. Halep is likely to make it out of this section but Keys and Ivanovic are more than capable of causing an upset.
Venus Williams’ resurgence was one of the many stories that gripped us in 2015. The 35 looks like a genuine contender for the big events again, even if she did lose her only match of the season thus far. Joanna Konta was another player who made headlines in 2015 but has made a poor start to 2016. The Brit is capable of an upset if she can perform to her summer 2015 level, but Venus likely prevails. In fact it is a fairly packed section with the ever dangerous Sabine Lisicki projected for round three. The German however is never a safe bet and could be dumped out early be Petra Cetkovska, Bethanie Mattek-Sands or Denisa Allertova. Karolina Pliskova was another name who played well but failed to make a deep run at a grand slam in 2015. However this could be the time she can finally make in roads at grand slam level. The Czech should make it to Ekaterina Makarova in round three at the very least. The winner likely plays Venus in round four- what a match that could be. Halep is the favourite to make it out of this quarter, but as you see there are many players who could trip her up.
Round of 32:
Serena def. Schmiedlova
Wozniacki def. Gasparyan
Bencic def. Kuznetsova
Sharapova def. Pavlyuchenkova
Radwanska def. Stosur
Stephens def. Vinci
Suarez Navarro def. Petkovic
Cibulkova def. Gavrilova
Kerber def. Begu
Jankovic def. Bacsinszky
Azarenka def. Svitolina
Garcia def. Muguruza
Venus def. Lisicki
Pliskova def. Makarova
Ivanovic def. Keys
Halep def. Tsurenko
Some early upsets include Kvitova losing round two Gavrilova, Gasparyan defeating Errani in round one, and Garcia defeating Muguruza in round three.
Round of 16:
Serena def. Wozniacki
Sharapova def. Bencic
Radwanska def. Stephens
Suarez Navarro def. Cibulkova
Kerber def. Jankovic
Azarenka def. Garcia
Pliskova def. Venus
Halep def. Ivanovic
Not many upsets to happen in round four. The most surprising result might be Pliskova defeating Venus.
Serena def. Sharapova
Radwanska def. Suarez Navarro
Azarenka def. Kerber
Halep def. Pliskova
Again, going with what is expected should these matches come to pass.
Serena def. Radwanska
Azarenka def. Halep
If Azarenka is truly back, then she will likely make the final here. The Belarusian love these courts as evident with her two victories here. Serena will win the other semi final.
Serena def. Azarenka
But it won’t be enough to defeat the world number one who finally matches Steffi Graf’s record.