2015 WTA Auckland and Shenzhen Preview and Predictions
Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
Two other events will take place on the WTA tour this week to open the 2015 season, one in Auckland and the other in Shenzhen, China, as players gear up for the Australian Open by making their preparations all across Asia and Australia-Pacific.
A regular on the WTA calendar, the ASB classic has been part of the WTA season for the past 30 years, and the season opener for the past 20 years. The formation occurred when a gap in the marketplace was seen by Ari Hallenberg and Global Sports. They pitched the idea of an event in Auckland to Tennis New Zealand, and thus the ASB classic was created.
Previous champions include the likes of: Marion Bartoli, Lindsay Davenport, Elena Dementieva, Jelena Jankovic, Agnieszka Radwanska and the 2014 champion was Ana Ivanovic.
WTA International Series
Auckland, New Zealand
January 5-January 10, 2015
Prize Money: $250,000
Top 4 seeds (WTA ranking in parentheses)
1: Caroline Wozniacki (8)
2: Sara Errani (14)
3: Venus Williams (18)
4: Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova (25)
A fairly strong field of seeded players with the lowest ranked seed being number 42, Mona Barthel. With two former world number ones, and three young stars we have got an open field that promises excitement.
First round matchups to watch:Embed from Getty Images
Marina Erakovic vs. Monica Puig
The home crowd favourite will no doubt be Marina Erakovic. The New Zealander finished a measly number 77 in the world in 2014, but picked up her form towards the end of the season. Her opponent is one of the WTA’s rising stars. 21 year old Puerto Rican, Monica Puig reached her highest ranking in 2014, but a poor end to the season saw her finish as world number 61. This will be one the hotly contested matches of round one, with Erakovic looking to please the home crowd. Puig will look to spoil the party and defeat her opponent and the crowd. Marina will want to keep the points short, and hold her serve, while Monica will want long rallies, and counter Erakovic. Expect a tight encounter here.
(7)Coco Vandeweghe vs. Roberta Vinci
The crafty Italian vs the big serving American will be one of the most intriguing matches in the season opener. The 23 year old New York native, Vandeweghe, had a career best season in 2014 which saw her reach her highest ranking of 38 and finish as the world number 39. She also won her first WTA tournament at the Topshelf Open. Across the court stands experienced Italian Roberta Vinci. The 31 year old finished at number 48 in the rankings last year, but has reached a career high of 11 in the world. Vinci’s slice will be a key shot in this match, and if Coco isn’t on form, it will trouble the American a lot. But if Vandeweghe plays at her full potential, Vinci might not be able to handle the big serve.
(2)Sara Errani vs. Daniela Hantuchova
Vinci’s doubles partner, Sara Errani has a stern test in her opening match in the form of Daniela Hantuchova. Daniela didn’t enjoy the best of seasons in 2014, finishing the year as world number 57. However if the Slovak can show any sign of the form that got her to number five in the world, she could very well upset the number two seed. Sara Errani is one of the steadiest players on tour. The former Roland Garros finalist has great movement and rarely makes an error. However, she lacks the firepower to dictate a match which often leaves the result in her opponent’s hands. If Hantuchova can be aggressive and consistent she can upset Errani, but that is a big if.
Caroline Wozniacki is the number one seed and favourite to win the tournament. The former world number one drew lucky and will face a qualifier in round one. The consistent Dane will likely cruise to a quarter final clash with Svetlana Kuznetsova. Caro will most likely prove to be too good for the former grand slam champion and should advance from this quarter.
The second quarter is an interesting one. Any one of the eight players could realistically make the semi-finals with a good run. The Favourite will be number four seed, Barbora Zahalova-Strycova. The 28 year old should pass her first round test, Chanelle Scheepers and meet either Erakovic or Puig in the second round. Both players could cause big problems for the Czech, but Strycova is coming in off her best season to date. You’d expect the other quarter finalist to be one of: Roberta Vinci, Coco Vandeweghe and Kirsten Flipkens. All three are capable of a good run here, but it’s a question of who can find their form in time. I believe Strycova will advance from this section, but I wouldn’t be shocked at all if it’s somebody else.
Number three seed Venus Williams is one of the favorites to win the tournament. The former world number one should make it through her first two matches without much hassle but if the veteran is off her game, she could easily be upset by Kiki Bertens or Kurumi Nara. The Interesting part of this section is the potential Quarter Final opponents for Venus. Mona Barthel is the seeded player and favourite, but the German has shown lack of mental strength and consistency in the past, despite her enormous talent. The 24 year old is unpredictable, and could blow the competition away or just as easily slump to a first round defeat. The key match will be the second round where Kristina Mladenovic or Elena Vesnina will await the winner. Both currently sit outside the top 50 and will be looking to kick off their season in a positive way. I feel Barthel makes it, but loses to Venus Williams in a tight encounter.
Number two seed Sara Errani would probably be more favoured on clay, but the Italian is so consistent, she won’t give any of her opponents’ free points. Errani should make it through to the quarter finals with her toughest test likely to come in round one against Daniela Hantuchova. Her opponent at this stage will likely be Sloane Stephens. The highly touted American made her breakthrough in 2013, but failed to make any improvements last year. Once touted a future number one, Sloane will be looking to live up to that potential in 2015.Embed from Getty Images
Wozniacki d. Strycova
Stephens d. Williams
Wozniacki should have no trouble getting past BarboraZahalovaStrycova in the semi-finals. Venus and Sloane will have a tight semi-final, which teases us with the end result multiple times. I am going to predict Stephens in three sets to set up a final clash with Caro.
Wozniacki d. Stephens
The two pre-tournament favourites will contest the final in Auckland.In the final we will see plenty of long rallies, but Wozniacki will do what she does best and wear her opponent down in two tight sets.
WTA International Series
January 4-January 10, 2015
Prize Money: $500,000
The Shenzhen Open is one of three events kicking off the 2015 season. It is also one of seven WTA events to be hosted in China this year. The inaugural event took place in 2013, with Li Na doing her home country proud by winning the tournament. The Chinese superstar returned in 2014 to defend her crown in an all Chinese final where she defeated Shuai Peng in straight sets. Unfortunately, Li Na won’t return to this event to defend her title once again as she has now officially retired from the game, meaning we will have a new champion at the Shenzen Open. It promises to be an exciting way to kick off the new season.
Top 4 seeds (WTA ranking in parentheses)
1: Simona Halep (3)
2: Petra Kvitova (4)
3: Shuai Peng (21)
4: Zarina Diyas (33)
First round matchups to watch:
(1)Simona Halep vs. Annika Beck
The world number three will kick off her season against young German Annika Beck in Shenzen. A lot of people will look at this and think it will be an easy win for the Romanian. They could be right, but they may also be in for a surprise. Beck offers a very solid game, and if Halep isn’t on her game right away, the number one seed may just get caught off guard. Look for lengthy rallies in this match between two solid baseliners.
(4)Zarina Diyas vs. Donna Vekic
Zarina Diyas enjoyed her best season to date in 2014, and the talented Kazakh doesn’t want stop right there. The 21 year old will face fellow youngster Donna Vekic in the first round of the Shenzhen open. The 18 year old has reached a career high of 65, so she will look to potentially break the top 50 for first time in 2015. This is a match-up you could very well be seeing more of in the future,so it will be good to familiarise with these two quickly.Embed from Getty Images
(3)Shuai Peng vs. Vera Zvonareva
The former grand slam finalist will return to face third seed and home country favourite Shuai Peng. This is perhaps the more interesting of the first round matches with the return of Vera Zvonareva being one of the hottest talking points amongst WTA fans watching this tournament. With the retirement of Li Na, Peng is now the Chinese number one and will have the weight of an entire nation on her shoulders in this event. We shall see if she can handle that pressure in Shenzhen.
Top Half:Embed from Getty Images
Number one seed Simona Halep will be big favourite to emerge from the top half of the draw. If the Romanian is off form however, there are a few players that can upset the world number two. Simona will likely face tests from Annika Beck and Klara Koukalova on her way to the semi finals, but if Halep isn’t completely off form, she should get through this section
Number 4 seed Zarina Diyas will be favourite to advance from her quarter, but it won’t be easy. As well as youngster Donna Vekic, Diyas could face tests from the likes of Monica Niculescu. The crafty Romanian is a difficult test for anyone with her variety of shots, and could easily advance to the semi-finals. The potential quarter final between Diyas and Niculescu could be one of the matches to watch in Shenzhen.
Bottom Half:Embed from Getty Images
The whole of China will be pinning their hopes on last year’s runner-up Shuai Peng to keep the title in the Middle Kingdom. She faces a stern test in the first round in Vera Zvonareva who could upset the number three seed. With the home crowd behind her, Peng should advance to the quarter finals at least here. Who will meet her there is anyone’s guess, with the talented Stefanie Voegele and number eight seed Timea Bascinzky potential adversaries. I expect Peng to make the semi finals here with the home crowd behind her.
Number two seed Petra Kvitova will fancy her chances of winning the title here, but first she must navigate her way through the bottom half of the draw.The Wild Card round one shouldn’t be a problem for the big hitting Czech who should really make the semi finals without much trouble. However, with her known ‘off days’ Petra could very well be upset by the likes of Bojana Jovanovski or Irina-Camelia Begu.
Halep d. Niculescu
Kvitova d. Peng
The top two seeds will make the final here. Niculescu’s spin won’t be a problem for Halep, who wins this one in straight sets. Kvitova has her difficulties with Peng, who takes her the distance, but the big match experience of the Czech will be enough to see her through.
Halep d. Kvitova
The final will be the one the most tennis fans will be anticipating. Haelp vs Kvitova has the potential to be one of the best matches of the year and we have only just begun! A clash of styles that could go either way, so I will solidly predict a three setter. Which player will win is a prediction I keep changing, but I am going to say Halep’s consistency wins her the title.