2017 Australian Open Women’s Preview and Predictions
Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
The draw has been made, the excitement is building and the first grand slam of the year is just days from getting started. Angelique Kerber is the top seed and defending champion of the Australian Open, can she defend her title? Or will somebody else step up to the face whether new or familiar? Here is a run down of the draw.
Kerber’s start to 2017 has not be great as she faced early exits in Brisbane and Sydney, but this is a grand slam in which she is the defending champion, so the motivation will be multiplied. The German starts her campaign against Lesia Tsurenko, a player who took the top seed the distance in the build up to the tournament. Kerber’s section is full of dangerous unseeded players such as Yaroslava Shvedova and Kristyna Pliskova, both of which may fancy themselves to take advantage of an out of sorts Irina Begu in the opening rounds. The fourth round could bring on a rematch with Daria Kastakina who stunned the world number one in Sydney. The young Russian is one of the most promising players on tour, and with a good draw against Roberta Vinci in the third round, Kasatkina could find herself making the second week.
Garbine Muguruza is about as predictable as the weather in Britain. One day she looks like a future world number one, the next she barely looks top 100. Either way this is quite a kind draw for the Spaniard who will play Marina Erakovic in round one. The first seed projected is an Anastasija Sevastova who is on a seven match losing streak… ouch. Muguruza could end up facing compatriot, friend and doubles partner Carla Suarez Navarro in the fourth round. She too has a good draw to last 16 with Shuai Zhang being the biggest threat. An all Spanish affair is on the cards for the round of 16 with Muguruza looking good for at least the quarter finals.
Many fans will be hoping for a Kerber-Muguruza quarter final, and that is likely to happen. Kasatkina is perhaps the biggest threat to that match, but her vs Muguruza is no less interesting. With the seventh seed it is difficult to predict which version will show up, so the safe bet is on Kerber making the semi finals.
Prediction: Kerber def. Muguruza
With the tour being so wide open, there is a good chance of Simona Halep breaking through the glass ceiling and claiming her maiden slam. The Romanian has a good draw in front of her, can she take advantage? The first real test should come in the form of Monica Puig in the third round. The Puerto Rican has the power to blast through the strong defence of Halep. Speaking of power, Venus Williams packs plenty and she will be hoping for one last shot at grand slam glory. Like Halep, the American has a good draw to the round of 16 with the third round against Kiki Bertens being the toughest challenge. The chances of a Halep vs Venus clash for a spot in the quarter finals are quite high and that would be a high profile showdown.
Svetlana Kuznetsova is a potential dark horse here and out of the four possible semi final opponents, she got the best one. The Russian is no known for remarkable consistency but on her day she can beat anyone on tour. The path to the fourth round should be simple enough with Laura Siegemund being the other seeded player in that mini section. Elina Svitolina in the last 16 is where things get real interesting. The Ukrainian is still highly touted to make a breakthrough at any time now, and this could the tournament to do it. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is her toughest test before Kuznetsova. The winner of that fourth round match may fancy their chances of making the last four.
This is a tough section to call as the two projected fourth round matches could go either way. Venus is capable of beating Halep, but on a slower surface you would favour the Romanian to get through. Svitolina vs Kuznetsova is a toss up, but the Ukrainian has beaten Kuznetsova here before so she can do it again. I feel this could be a good tournament for the youngster, and she could beat Halep and make the final four, so I am going out on a limb and predicting Svitolina to advance.
Prediction: Svitolina def. Halep
The third quarter is perhaps the most stacked of all and promises a very interesting quarter final between Agnieszka Radwanska and Karolina Pliskova. First they must get through a tough draw of players though, kicking off with Tsvetana Pironkova for the Pole. Radwanska has some tough floaters in her draw including Mirjana Lucic-Baroni who is a potential second round foe. Alize Cornet had a good run in Brisbane so comes into Melbourne with form on her side and could give Radwanska a tough match in the third round. The fourth round will likely be against Elena Vesnina, but the Russian has struggled with form in the build up to the tournament. Sam Stosur will be hoping for a good run at home, but her record in Australia is not good, so it may be a good chance for an unseeded player such as Heather Watson, Joanna Larsson or Magda Linette to make the fourth round.
Pliskova is the form player heading into the Australian Open after a good run of play saw her lift the Brisbane trophy at the start of the season. The Czech has a fair draw to the fourth round with Monica Niculescu and Yulia Putintseva being the most difficult tests. The last 16is where things get interesting as there are a number of players in this mini-section capable of making an impact. Timea Bacsinszky and Daria Gavrilova are the seeds, but will they manage to compete against each other in the third round? Gavrilova faces Naomi Broady then possibly up and comer Ana Konjuh in the second round. The Swiss faces the dangerous Camila Giorgi in the opening round so there are plenty of upset chances on the cards. However, Pliskova is expected to make it through this section, problems or not.
Radwanska vs Pliskova is difficult to call, but the match lies in the hands of the fifth seed. If Pliskova is on point with her power then it will be difficult for Radwanska to resist. If not then the Pole will win the match by virtue of consistency. Given how well Pliskova played in Brisbane, it is difficult to look past her getting through here.
Prediction: Pliskova def. Radwanska
Serena Williams’ dominance of the WTA tour came to an end in 2016 as she was dethroned by Kerber as the best female tennis player in the world. 2017 will see the 22 time Grand Slam champion look to not only reassert her dominance, but also make history, starting in Melbourne. Serena will still be the favourite in most peoples minds despite being the second seed, but she could have hardly asked for a tougher opening match. Belinda Bencic, a player who knows what it takes to beat her, will kick off he world number two’s campaign. It does not get much easier with former French open finalist Lucie Safarova possibly awaiting in the second round and the big serving Timea Babos the first seed Williams will likely come across. From there Serena will likely go on to face Barbora Strycova or Caroline Garcia, two talented but very different players who can cause trouble in many ways. To say Serena will have to earn her place in the quarter finals is an understatement.
Dominika Cibulkova knows what it takes to reach the final in Melbourne, and with a bit of luck she might like her chances of repeating that feat in 2017. Her draw looks pretty good with Ekaterina Makarova in round three being the toughest predicted opponent until the fourth stage. There she could meet in form Brit, Johanna Konta. The ninth seed was superb in Sydney where she captured the title so comes into Melbourne full of confidence. She has a tricky opener against Kirtsen Flipkens and a possible match with talented Japanese youngster Naomi Osaka in round two. All eyes will be on a potential round three clash with Caroline Wozniacki though. This is one of the most anticipated third round matches looking at the draw, and the winner could reach the quarter finals and a potential meeting with Serena.
Williams feels vulnerable in this section because there are plenty of players who are capable of upsetting her in every round. British fans will be interested in my predicted quarter final of Serena vs Konta, but I feel they will not like the result. Serena struggles but advances through this section to meet Pliskova in the semi finals.
Prediction: Serena def. Konta
I have gone on a limb and predicted Svitolina to make her first grand slam semi final, but it is difficult to see her progressing any further. It is likely the pressure will get to the Ukrainian, the same pressure in which Kerber thrived on last year. Their head to head is close and Svitolina did win their Brisbane clash, but this is a different stage and I see Kerber prevailing
Prediction: Kerber def. Svitolina
Pliskova pulled off one of 2016’s stunning upsets by defeating Serena at the US Open to make her maiden Grand Slam final. The question on whether she can do it again will be at large, but the thing with the American is, she always seems to win the next big meeting. I can see it being a close match, but this time I feel Serena edges it.
Prediction: Serena def. Pliskova
So it will end up being a repeat of the 2016 final as Serena faces Kerber. The German pulled off a stunning display a year a go to win her maiden slam, a performance that kicked off an incredible year for the world number one, in which she went on to make the Wimbledon final and win the US Open. She lost to Serena in that very Wimbledon final though, and the world number two had seemingly made some adjustments to counter Kerber. It is a tough one to predict, but I am going with Serena based off their last big meeting. I will not be shocked to see Kerber do it again, and I will not be shocked if Serena does not even make the final. But I am going to predict her to win Grand Slam number 23 in Melbourne.
Predicton: Serena Williams def. Kerber